Leeds wait on pro­mo­tion

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - Cham­pi­onship By Luke Ed­wards at El­land Road

Leeds United will end their 16-year ab­sence from the Pre­mier League if West Brom fail to beat Hud­der­s­field tonight. United’s 1-0 vic­tory over Barns­ley yes­ter­day left them need­ing a point from their fi­nal two matches to seal pro­mo­tion. But if ri­vals West Brom or Brent­ford fail to win this week­end, they will be up be­fore play­ing Derby on Sun­day.

There will be no vic­tory pa­rade, hope­fully no street par­ties and sadly no joy­ous cel­e­bra­tions in front of their ec­static sup­port­ers, but Leeds United are so close to toast­ing pro­mo­tion they can al­most feel the cham­pagne bub­bles ris­ing.

They de­serve it, as much for their re­silience as their qual­ity. There have been some re­ally dif­fi­cult mo­ments in the sea­son, when those out­side waited for them to fal­ter and so many wanted them to fall apart again. This was one of them.

This group have car­ried on re­gard­less. Ev­ery set­back has been met with de­fi­ance, not fear. When you are re­minded all the time about the end-of-sea­son im­plo­sions, it takes a spe­cial kind of for­ti­tude to cope at a club such as Leeds.

This was not a vin­tage per­for­mance, more cava than cham­pagne,

but it was good enough and when you have waited 16 years, that is all that mat­ters.

“The win was a prod­uct of the col­lec­tive ef­fort,” Marcelo Bielsa, the Leeds coach, said. “We had to run a lot to keep the re­sult. Un­til we are pro­moted, math­e­mat­i­cally, I will not talk about be­ing in the Pre­mier League. It is not con­ve­nient to do that.”

Leeds’s play­ers looked ex­hausted, un­der­stand­able when they are play­ing three games a week with largely the same start­ing line-up. They also looked con­fused, Bielsa start­ing with four at the back, switch­ing to three with Ben White as a hold­ing mid­fielder, then back to four. The foot­ball stut­tered and Barns­ley had come to play, not sit back. The vis­i­tors have a rel­e­ga­tion bat­tle to try to win.

Bielsa and his coach­ing staff looked and sounded ag­i­tated and Barns­ley should have taken the lead, Jacob Brown pulling a shot wide and Mads An­der­sen miss­ing with a div­ing header.

Sec­onds later, Leeds had the cru­cial goal as Pa­trick Bam­ford was sent in by Ma­teusz Klich’s pass. His first cross was blocked by An­der­sen but his sec­ond at­tempt was turned into his own goal by Michael Soll­bauer. A re­ward for per­sis­tence. It felt apt.

Barns­ley, though, were the bet­ter side at the start of the sec­ond half, as they had been in the first, Cal­lum

Styles go­ing close and Soll­bauer’s header be­ing saved by Il­lan Mes­lier. Leeds re­ally did look drained now, un­able to press quickly enough as mis­takes crept in. They were play­ing on the counter and a sec­ond goal was needed. Bam­ford had a great chance, kept out by Jack Wal­ton. He should have scored.

Bielsa looked like a man go­ing through men­tal tor­ture on the side­line. Nails were be­ing gnawed in the di­rec­tors’ box, as they were in ev­ery liv­ing room or pub where Leeds fans watched on tele­vi­sion.

Foot­ball is painful to watch some­times. Leeds know that bet­ter than most, but this time re­lief came. No more near misses, no more hard­luck sto­ries. The pain is al­most over. They need one more point to be cer­tain, but Leeds are head­ing back to the Pre­mier League.

De­cider: Barns­ley’s Michael Soll­bauer (grounded) puts through his own goal to give Leeds vic­tory at El­land Road yes­ter­day

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