Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa was left to reflect on another night of missed chances as his side’s promotion bid failed in their semi-final with Derby County.
United led from the first leg and added to it in the first half, but two goals in two minutes either side of the break turned the second leg tie on its head and Frank Lampard went on to have the last laugh with his Derby side winning 4-2 on the night and 4-3 on aggregate.
It ended up another night of shooting themselves in the foot by the Leeds team, who despite finishing nine points above Derby will miss out on a Wembley final as well as automatic promotion, which was theirs for the taking.
Bielsa said: “It’s a painful situation and very disappointing.
“I feel very sad first of all for the players. I don’t think there is someone who feels more pain than our players. I am also sad for the fans.
“The team deserved to finish first or second.
“This game had a specific moment that broke the balance.
“We should have made the difference bigger in the first half and we ended it with a draw.
“We had as many chances as the opponent in the second half and in the first half we had more chances.
“The analysis we could make on the games where we couldn’t make the difference are the same. They had the same features. We missed many chances to score and we collaborated in the goals they scored.”
On whether Bielsa would be at Elland Road for another go at promotion next season he added: “As you can imagine, it’s not convenient to talk about this right now.
“This process, you know about it, is that if the club offers me the possibility to carry on I will listen to their proposal.
“What the players offered to the club this season will be valued over time. The fact that we couldn’t reach the goals we were so close to leaves a feeling of disappointment but you can have another perspective about it.
“I already mentioned that it would be very difficult to see these players play at the same level in another season. We had so many difficulties but I have to say that we had the conditions to finish first or second and all the conditions to be the best team in the play-offs.
“We couldn’t finish first or second and we couldn’t reach the final. Obviously there are mistakes that prevented us from reaching our goals and when you can’t reach something that was reachable, it always puts doubt on the head coach.”
In front of an expectant packed Elland Road Leeds started sharply with the recalled Patrick Bamford racing clear down the right wing only to be pulled down by Fikayo Tomori, who was booked.
Derby offered their first threat with Harry Wilson shooting over following hesitation between home keeper Kiko Casilla and his defenders.
The first good move of the night saw Luke Ayling volley over after he had combined well with Mateusz Klich down the right.
The opening goal came on 24 minutes when a Kalvin Phillips free-kick cleared everyone and came back off the post with Stuart Dallas in the right place to shoot home from the rebound.
It was so nearly two soon after when Klich was found in space on the edge of the box and beat the keeper with his shot only to see it bounce back off the crossbar after flicking off Richard Keogh.
Leeds were right on top at this stage, but could not get the second goal they needed to kill the tie off at this stage with Dallas seeing a shot from the edge of the box deflected wide and Bamford only able to get in a weak shot that was easily saved after he was put in by Kalvin Phillips.
Bamford could then not quite reach a dangerous cross put in by Jack Harrison, but United were looking comfortable until Derby finally exerted a bit of pressure towards the end of the first half.
Mason Bennett’s header gave the hosts a warning as it crashed against the woodwork. Tom Lawrence then screwed a shot wide when well placed.
Their equaliser came right out of the blue, however, as Casilla and Liam Cooper got into a tangle on the edge of the box and Jack Marriott, who had only just come on, rolled the ball into the unguarded net.
The leveller made for a very different second half and within a minute of the restart Derby were ahead on the night as Mason Mount’s shot from inside the area looped into the net.
It could have been worse for the home team two minutes later as Bennett’s shot had to be saved by Casilla’s feet.
United regrouped and in a thrilling spell they went close to two more goals. Harrison should have done better with a volley that he did not get enough power behind, allowing it to be blocked by a defender, and Dallas’s shot was beaten away by keeper Kelle Roos with Pablo Hernandez’s follow-up being blocked and shouts for handball falling on deaf ears.
A real sickener followed as Derby were awarded a penalty by referee Anthony Taylor for a block off by Cooper on Bennett, who would not have reached the through ball aimed his way. Up stepped Harry Wilson to make it 3-1 and put the visitors ahead on aggregate.
Leeds were quickly back on parity overall as Dallas finished off a lovely move down the left with a superb curling shot into the bottom corner of the net.
Now it was United back in the ascendancy and Ayling’s shot went inches wide after he got in round the back of the County defence.
The next big turning point came when Gaetano Berardi was sent-off for a second bookable offence.
It was a controversial piece of refereeing after Taylor - never seemingly far away from controversy when in charge of Leeds games - had denied two obvious free-kicks moments earlier and the tie switched back Derby’s way.
They took advantage of their extra man when Wilson was through only to hit the post. But the relief proved only temporary as Marriott was put in and beat Casilla to the ball to score into the far corner of the net.
Leeds still had a go to get the goal back that would take it to extra-time, but Cooper’s header was saved by Roos and Dallas was only denied a hat-trick by a superb save by the keeper who also kept out the follow-up effort by substitute Izzy Brown.
There was more drama in injury-time with Derby’s Scott Malone sent-off for a second bookable offence. From the free-kick he gave away on the edge of the box Brown fired over and that was that, Leeds’ season ultimately ended in failure.
Leeds United 2
(Dallas 24, 62)
Derby County 4
(Marriott 45, 85, Mount 46, Wilson 58, pen)
Wednesday, May 15, 2019
Championship play-off, second leg
Leeds: Casilla, Ayling, Berardi (sent-off 77), Cooper, Dallas, Phillips, Hernandez, Shackleton, Klich (Clarke 86), Harrison, Bamford (Brown 87).
Derby: Roos, Bogle, Keogh, Tomori, Malone, Johnson, Wilson, Holmes (Marriott 45), Mount. Lawrence, Bennett (Huddlestone 59).
Referee: Anthony Taylor