Party time for Leeds but more work lies ahead
Hernandez 56, Shackleton 75, Clarke 84 og
The promotion party continues. After a painful exile of 16 years, Leeds are Marching On Together to the Premier League and return as champions.
This was their 27th league win of the season, and at the end Leeds players celebrated with champagne and flags, as yellow and blue smoke flares snaked into the sky.
There have been scenes of joyous celebration since promotion was confirmed on Friday night and Marcelo Bielsa, their brilliant and innovative head coach, has unified a city by returning this famous club to football’s national conscience.
“The city is very passionate and people had a lot of hope for this promotion. It wasn’t difficult to imagine the happiness people are feeling at the moment,” Bielsa said. “The trophy makes me happy but I’ve been in football for 40 years, so one title doesn’t really change the percentage of trophies I have.
“Love is what every human being wants in life. You have two kinds of love – the love that comes from those closest to you and that which comes from situations like this. The supporters give us back this love. What also makes me happy is the fact I have won with this group of players. What got the promotion was the fantastic ability of the players.”
Bielsa will discuss a new contract with the club later this month and has etched his name into Leeds history by doing it his way. They have scorched a trail in such an unforgiving division with a unique identity, fuelled by those “murder-ball” training sessions, and will not be entering the Premier League just to make up the numbers.
Bielsa will be a welcome addition to the land of cash and controversy, going toe to toe with managers such as Pep Guardiola, who considers him one of the greats. The Argentine will celebrate his 65th birthday tomorrow.
This victory over Derby was particularly fitting for Bielsa, too. Last season it was Derby who stunned Leeds in the play-off semi-final second leg, months after the infamous “Spygate” saga.
As the players celebrated after the final whistle, director of football Victor Orta was seen high in the stands watching with a pair of binoculars. Aside from Bielsa’s managerial acumen, there have been so many heroes on the field too, from inspirational midfielder Kalvin Phillips to outstanding Brighton loanee Ben White.
Liam Cooper, their captain, has been with the club six years and must have wondered if this day would ever come.
He said: “It’s unbelievable. I’m lost for words. It’s not sunk in yet. I’ve not seen my kids yet to celebrate with them and it doesn’t feel real, but it is. Leeds United are back.
“It’s been a tough 16 years, we’ve been to the bottom and now we can enjoy it and deservedly so.
“We’ve been the best team all season through sheer sacrifice.”
It has been a chaotic weekend since Huddersfield – who sacked manager Danny Cowley yesterday – confirmed Leeds’ promotion by beating West Bromwich Albion.
Around 50 Leeds fans gathered outside Pride Park before kick-off to greet the team coach, then the players were given a guard of honour by their hosts.
Wayne Rooney, the captain, led Derby out and it must have felt like pulling teeth for the 34-year-old. When Rooney last faced Leeds in the Premier League in 2004, he scored for Everton at Elland Road and was on the brink of his move to Manchester United.
The first half was a nondescript end-of-season affair, with Bielsa making seven changes, and the absence of supporters for such a high-profile encounter was never more glaring than it was here.
Bielsa watched in his trademark position, crouched down in his technical area and carrying the air of a manager whose team were fighting to stay up on the last day.
Ten minutes into the second half, a football match finally broke out. It was Derby who took the lead, capitalising on some sleepy defending with Chris Martin poking the ball past goalkeeper Kiko Casilla.
Derby’s lead lasted less than 60 seconds, with Pablo Hernandez equalising from outside the box after his initial shot had been blocked.
Leeds moved in front 15 minutes from time after a fine, flowing move and a clinical finish from another of their academy graduates, Jamie Shackleton. And victory was secured with an own goal by Matthew Clarke, inexplicably diverting Ezgjan Alioski’s cross into his own net.
Job done, and now the hard work really begins.
(4-2-3-1) Roos; Bogle, Davies, Clarke, Forsyth (Buchanan 65); Bird (Marriott 82), Rooney; Waghorn, Sibley (Shinnie 65), Lawrence (Knight 7); Martin. Hamer (g), Jozefzoon, Evans, Lowe, Whittaker. Sibley.
(4-2-3-1) Casilla; Dallas, White, Berardi (Ayling 33), Douglas; Dallas, Struijk; Poveda (Harrison 77), Hernandez, Alioski; Roberts (Bamford 82). Miazek (g), Cooper, Davis, Klich, Bogusz, Casey.
Oliver Langford (West Midlands).