Leeds wait on promotion
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