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Spirited Leeds clinch Premier League survival on the final day
Monday, 23rd May 2022 22:17 by Tim Whelan

In all honesty I wasn’t expecting this when I woke up yesterday morning, with Burnley having a home game and Leeds needing to better their result in a difficult game at Brentford. I rated our chances of survival as less than 50-50, but in the end that just made our escape all the sweeter.

When the fixtures for 2021/2 came out almost a year ago I assumed that it would be Brentford who would be in desperate need of a result to avoid relegation, while we would be somewhere in mid-table or even higher. But the season didn’t go the way we expected, and whilst for most of it I thought we would get out of trouble, after the chaotic defeat by Chelsea I finally began to fear we were likely to go down.

And the pre-match news did little to cheer me up. We had hoped that Patrick Bamford would at least make the bench, to be in case we desperately needed a goal at the end, but the curse that has blighted his season summoned up a dose of Covid, to add to the many setbacks he has suffered in the last 12 months.

With two young strikers in the starting line-up it looked like Jesse Marsch was going for broke, but while Joffy was up front as expected, Sam Greenwood made his full Premier League debut in a midfield role in place of the more experienced Klich. And while it seemed a bit of a gamble to play him out of position in such a vital game, he actually did a very good job in nullifying the threat of Eriksen.

The Leeds defence made a very nervy start to the game, with the two centre backs taking it in turn to give possession away, and Meslier dropping a routine catch, thankfully from far enough away from the goal that he could grab the ball before it crossed the line. With Brentford’s pace in attack I thought it might be only a matter of time before they got the breakthrough if we kept making errors.

Thankfully Mbermo hadn’t brought his shooting boots and we came through this early spell unscathed. At the other end our first good opportunity went begging as Harrison sent his cross too far in front of the onrushing Raphinha for the Brazilian to have a chance of getting on the end of it. We needed a goal to settle the nerves, but Greenwood and Gelhardt shot well over the bar.

Then we thought we had got one after some neat footwork from Harrison created space for him to flick the ball over the top to Gelhardt, who finished superbly by hammering his shot into the roof of the net. But although the flag hadn’t gone up VAR struck once again, with the replay showing that Joffy had dipped his shoulder a second too soon, as was offside by a very tight margin.

However, at almost the same moment 200 miles further north Burnley literally handed us a lifeline by needlessly conceding a penalty against Newcastle, which Calum Wilson duly converted. So as things stood, we were staying up. But that still required us to get at least a draw, and that looked in doubt as Brentford conjured up some good chances as half-time approached.

Mbermo put the ball through Firpo’s legs on the touchline and pulled it back for Jensen, whose attempt to chip the ball over Meslier into the far corner was just foiled by our keeper as he reached back to tip the ball over the bar. Then Cooper conceded possession after a heavy touch and a through ball set Mbermo free, but he dragged his shot across the face of goal and beyond the far post.

And the second half began in similar fashion, but Mbermo sent a shot straight at Meslier from a decent position. Then there was more good news from Turf Moor, as Burnley had gone two behind but we still needed to secure a result ourselves. A good ball from Raphinha set Rodrigo free, and while his first touch was excellent, his finish lacked the power to trouble Raya.

But a few minutes later Raya put himself in trouble with a poor clearance which was picked up by Raphinha, and the Brentford keeper tripped Raphinha as the Brazilian went round him for a clear penalty. I could hardly watch as Raphinha stepped up to take the kick himself with his usual stuttering run-up, but he hammered his shot superbly into the top right hand corner.

This gave us a margin of safety for the first time, and even when news came through that Burnley had pulled one back, at least two goals would have to go against us (for either Burnley or Brentford) to put us back into a relegation position. And with 20 minutes remaining Brentford were reduced to ten men, as Ajer went down and couldn’t continue when they had already used all three substitutes.

So we looked even more secure, but that changed in the 77th minute, at the start of a crazy passage of play involving the ever-irritating Sergi Canos. Toney ran down the right into a crowd of players and his pass was blocked by an interception from Cooper, but the rebound fell to Wissa.

His cross found Canos at the far post, where our defence was a lot shorter in numbers. The Spaniard looped a clever header beyond Meslier into the far corner, but was booked for taking his shirt off in celebration. And yellow became red less than a minute later, when he picked up his second card for scything Raphinha down as the Brazilian raced down the wing.

After his antics at Elland Road earlier in the season he was the perfect choice of Brentford player to be sent off, and it was all the more hilarious for both his cards being so needless, as well as his pointless protest to the ref that it was his first foul! But even with nine men they were still capable of a dangerous break, which Phillips had to interrupt at the cost of a booking before it got serious.

But that was about the last time they got out of their own half, as the effort of playing with nine men caught up with the home side in the last few minutes. But although Brentford didn’t look like scoring, we had no idea what was going on at Turf Moor, so we couldn’t be sure that a draw was going to be enough. There was still the possibility that Burnley could send us down with a last gasp equaliser.

So as five minutes of injury time were announced we didn’t know whether we needed to throw everyone forward for a winning goal or not. But our survival was finally sealed, after a corner was cleared, but only as far as Harrison outside the area. His shot took a deflection that left Raya with no chance, leading to scenes of pandemonium in the away section, in pubs throughout West Yorkshire, and in the living rooms of Leeds fans throughout the land.

There was still a VAR check for offside, as Rodrigo had been far too slow in moving up when the defence raced forward after the clearance. But the man at Stockley Park decided that his position hadn’t blocked the view of the keeper so he wasn’t interfering with play, and the goal stood. And a few minutes later our survival was confirmed with the final whistle, and Jesse Marsch could fall on the ground in celebration.

A huge police presence in front of the away section prevented us from adding to the wave of pitch invasions that has swept the country in the last week, so Raphinha had to compensate by invading the stand instead, getting down to his shorts as he climbed up to embrace his wife. And Radz came onto the field to join the fun, complete with the beaming smile of a man who’s investment was finally safe.

When the dust has settled we will know that it’s still been an unexpectedly poor season all round and that the club will need a reset before it all starts again in August, but for now let’s just savour the pleasure of a memorable final day when just about everything went right.


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