Leeds United’s promotion hopes suffered a huge nosedive as they somehow managed to contrive to lose 2-1 at home to a Wigan Athletic team playing with 10 men for 80 minutes.
It looked like plain sailing for Marcelo Bielsa’s men when they led in the first 20 minutes and their opponents had defender Cedric Kipre red carded, but two Gavin Massey goals either side of half-time condemned them to a shock result.
Whether it was the pressure of knowing rivals Sheffield United had earlier won their game or not, the Whites simply did not handle the pressure as they found the target only once as they missed a penalty and had 31 efforts on goal.
A dramatic first half ended even despite domination for much of it by the United side.
They looked on the game from the off as Jack Harrison’s low ball just eluded Patrick Bamford in the area and Pablo Hernandez’s far post shot was cleared by a defender.
Leon Clarke sent a header wide at the other end to show that Wigan were going to have a go, but they were soon back defending and conceding a penalty.
Bamford’s flick header from an Ezgjan Alioski cross fell for Luke Ayling and his shot was blocked on the line by the hand of Wigan defender Cedric Kipre, who was sent-off as a result.
Leeds did not make the most of the opportunity, however, with Hernandez’s spot kick came back off the post.
Wigan’s relief was only temporary as three minutes later Bamford made space nicely in the box and beat Walton with a powerful angled strike for the opening goal.
The visitors showed they still offered a threat as Clarke rounded home keeper Kiko Casilla outside the area, nut from a difficult angle and 25 yards out he chipped the ball wide.
United began to lay siege to the Wigan goal for a spell without the cutting edge they needed to take advantage of many promising positions.
Pontus Jansson saw a header from a corner comfortably saved and Walton had another easy save from Kalvin Phillips’ 30-yard shot.
Bamford miskicked in the area when in space before Tyler Roberts smashed in a volley only to see it well cleared by Kal Naismith with Walton beaten.
Home fans were stunned, however, when Wigan equalised out of the blue just before half-time as Massey got in behind the Leeds defence then beat Casilla at his near post with a powerful struck shot.
Into the second half the pattern remained the same with United pouring forward yet somehow not finding the target as Hernandez dragged a shot wide when free on the edge of the box and substitute Kemar Roofe given a free header in the box, but only able to send the ball straight at the keeper. Mateusz Klich was then not far off target with a shot from 20 yards out.
But as in the first half Wigan found a way out of defence and stunned again with a second goal, made by Clarke’s header down for Massey who headed past Casilla.
The visitors, who are fighting for survival from relegation, then had something to hold onto and they did it heroically with some amazing last ditch defending as they were forced back into their box for much of the last half-hour.
Keeper Walton rose to the occasion as he saved well with his legs to deny Bamford while Harrison shot over after working space well.
At the other end Reece James’ free-kick caught out Casilla only to clip the crossbar. He also went on a good run to the edge of the box only to shoot wide tamely from the edge of the box.
It was soon back to defending for Wigan and Alioski had a shot beaten out by Walton with no-one able to capitalise on the rebound.
Walton then made his best save of the day as he tipped Hernandez’s well struck shot wide.
Harrison’s shot was deflected over and Alioski followed suit from the edge of the box. Frustration was growing by the minute and for all Leeds’ attacking in the close stages they were unable to create another clear chance and the players trudged off the field knowing they had blown a big opportunity. Now they need Sheffield United to drop points or their automatic promotion bid will be over.
Head coach Bielsa characteristically blamed himself for the defeat.
He said: “Any explanation I could give would be meaningless. It’s not a game that you can analyse because you have games like today’s that you have to win.
“The result condemns seriously my work.
“If I look for explanations I will find in the game how to explain what happened, but you have no explanation that justifies a loss like this.
“This was a game we had to win and we could have won.
“Everything can happen in football. But today only one thing had to happen and we had to win it. There is no explanation for a loss like this.
“We need to have strength in a moment of mental weakness that was not expected. This is a challenge to us, especially me because I’m the head coach. Three hours ago I’ve been described as the maker of this reality. Therefore this new reality is also my responsibility.
“We had all the ingredients to deservedly win, but you have some games where it’s not just deserving, it’s about just getting the win. Honestly I don’t think the players are responsible.
“The player has a duty of giving everything and when you have ambition, commitment and effort and you don’t get what you’re looking for it’s not the responsibility of the player, but the responsibility of the head coach.”
Bielsa added: “We had everything in our favour, but couldn’t take advantage.
“The games we have to play now are going to be more difficult and if we don’t get promoted it will not be a season to remember.
“We arrived att his moment with all the conditions to get promoted, but we lost the ranking we had and the games we are going to be playing now are going to be a lot more demanding.
“If there has been a team that has been unlucky it is ours, at least in 90 per cent of the games. Destiny gave us a hand today, red card for the opponent, penalty that we missed, 15 chances to score, there is no doubt we had possibilities.
“I’m very sad, but I am full of motivation. I am ready to work again straight away.”
Leeds United 1
Wigan Athletic 2
(Massey 44, 62)
Friday, April 19, 2019
Sky Bet Championship
Leeds: Casilla, Ayling, Jansson, Berardi. Alioski, Phillips (Forshaw 45), Hernandez, Klich (Clarke 71), Roberts (Roofe 45), Harrison, Bamford.
Wigan: Walton, Byrne, Dunkley, Kipre (sent-off 14), Robinson, James (Garner 90), Morsy, Naismith, Evans, Massey (Powell 74), Clarke (Olsson 66).
Referee: Scott Duncan.