August to May. Sparkling to dulled. Table-toppers to nearly theres. Leeds United’s 2018/19 Sky Bet Championship campaign juddered to a halt tonight as Derby County mounted a ferocious comeback to advance to Wembley.
Controlled and cowed they were in front of their own fans at Pride Park. Easily dominated and pushed around by a dominant Leeds United outfit. They rolled into Elland Road and refused to roll over.
Trailing 1-0 leading up to half-time, a howler of a cataclysmic proportions between Kiko Casilla and Liam Cooper saw Jack Marriott score just before the half. Just after it was 2-1 thanks to Mason Mount and then quickly 3-1 after a Harry Wilson penalty.
Stuart Dallas scored his second to bring Leeds level on aggregate. It wasn’t to be though, with the Whites reduced to 10 men after Gaetano Berardi’s sending-off Derby scored the winner with Jack Marriott adding his second on 85 minutes.
The result is immaterial in a way, it is consigned to an entry in the history books; it is done! However, the Whites need to pick themselves up and battle onward. They need to look ahead at the coming summer, peer into the near future and start some goal-setting.
Vital to Leeds United’s success this season wasn’t the players per se, it was what was done to them. This was a side that limped to a sad and dejected 13th position in the Championship table in 2017/18. They were made glorious and turned around in one season, a season of 48 games where fans were given much hope.
There’s one man who can take credit for this rising of the phoenix feeling – Marcelo Bielsa. He’s the driving force behind the changes, the adoption of stylish football, the ethos that was engrained in the club in such a short space of time – 48 games. For Whites fans, he was the biggest signing the club made.
Easily the biggest manager that the club has employed in the modern era; he’s head-sholuders-limbs above the likes of what Leeds United fans have put up with. These are fans who shudder at the visceral feelings when watching football under the likes of David Hockaday and Darko Milanic. Managers of that ilk were anathema to fans on the terraces; Bielsa has come to represent the antidote to that.
However, Leeds fans’ greatest fears will be that the legendary Argentinian will simply walk away from the club. He’s taken them to the brink, maybe staring into the abyss of another Championship campaign will be too much for him.
However, amidst the doom and despondency, the misery and the moping, there is often a single flickering flame of hope that can be grasped. That comes via the following news from Bielsa’s after-match presser.
Bielsa on future: “If the club offers me the possibility to carry on I will listen to the proposal.” #lufc
— Adam Pope (@apopey) May 15, 2019
This listening to the proposal does not equate to Bielsa accepting what he’s offered – not by any means. Of course, it is most likely that the club will exercise their right to extend Bielsa’s stay in West Yorkshire and at Leeds United for that ‘option year’. Well, they’d be fools not to.
The Yorkshire Evening Post’s Phil Hay adds to the above from Adam Pope. In an article written soon after the end of tonight’s game, Hay quotes Bielsa as saying: “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.”
Timing is everything, the dust needs to settle on the end of this glorious campaign before decisions are made about the next steps. Despondent they may be now, but Leeds United fans will no doubt be lifted by the interesting news that Marcelo Bielsa has not dismissed staying out of hand and will listen to an offer put to him.