Leeds allow Aston Villa to score in dramatic scenes at Elland Road
Home side scored while Villa player injured; Marco Bielsa then ordered them to concede
Leeds United’s Mateusz Klich is confronted by Aston Villa’s Conor Hourihane after he scored his side’s first goal whilst Jonathan Kodjia was down injured. Photo: Clint Hughes/PA Wire
Leeds United 1 Aston Villa 1
A spirit of fair play ultimately, and perhaps a little begrudgingly, trumped a ruthless win-at-all-costs mentality but, for several insane second-half minutes, anarchy prevailed in West Yorkshire.
As Leeds United’s Mateusz Klich curled a highly opportunistic 71st minute goal beyond Jed Steer all hell broke loose. At the time Aston Villa’s Jonathan Kodjia was down injured after being fouled and his teammates had asked for the ball to be put out of play. When Tyler Roberts passed up the chance to do so and, instead, put Klich through it provoked a mass, ugly, on-pitch melee.
Playing on and scoring was unsporting and perhaps reflected the frustration of Marcelo Bielsa’s players who knew before kick-off that automatic promotion had all but slipped from their grasp. The sight of Klich racing down the left as Villa players stood motionless certainly incensed a visiting side who could yet be reunited with Leeds in the play-off final at Wembley.
As Dean Smith, the visiting manager, and his assistant John Terry went berserk in the technical area – with Terry pointing fingers in Bielsa’s face – pandemonium and acrimony unfolded on the pitch.
Almost every player became embroiled in a bout of push and shove which ended with Villa’s Anwar Ghazi being shown a red card after clashing with Patrick Bamford and Conor Hourihane – who at one point grabbed Klich by the throat – and Bamford both being booked.
Stuart Attwell, the referee, had an unenviable job but replays suggested the sending off was incorrect as Ghazi’s elbow made no contact with the Leeds striker. Indeed Bamford appeared to have indulged in some amateur dramatics.
When things finally began settling down there were big touchline deliberations between the benches before Bielsa instructed his players to allow Villa to score straight from the restart. Pontus Jansson, Leeds’ Sweden centre-half, did not appear to appreciate the message and seethed with fury. Briefly threatening to take matters into his own hands, Jansson attempted to tackle Albert Adomah but, mercifully, failed.
After that Attwell was probably counting the seconds until he could blow the final whistle on a draw which ended Villa’s run of 10 wins and rubber-stamped Sheffield United’s promotion to the Premier League behind Norwich.
“I think common sense and sportsmanship prevailed in the end,” said Smith. “Klich apologised to me coming off the pitch; he said things like that should not happen. We’ll be appealing Anwar’s red card. I’ll be amazed if he’s suspended for the playoffs because there’s nothing to it, he doesn’t touch him.”
Villa’s manager also revealed that he advised Bielsa to allow his side to equalise. “I suggested I thought that would be the right thing to do and he agreed,” said Smith. “But I’m not sure all his players did! I can understand their frustration but full respect to Marcelo for that because it was the right decision.”
He played down suggestions of resentments resurfacing in a possible Wembley final. “My players were angry at the time but at the end they were all shaking hands with everyone because sportmanship prevailed,” said Smith. “It was one moment in a highly competitive industry.” An FA inquiry could take a less sanguine view.
Bielsa is rarely circumspect but, for once, the Argentinian preferred to keep his own counsel. “What happened, happened,” he said. “English football is known around the world for its noble features. I’ve said all I want to say.”
And to think that, until the 71st minute, things had been deceptively dull. Probably the most dramatic first-half moment came when Bielsa was booked for taking umbrage at the lack of a free-kick in the wake of Bamford being blatantly tugged back by Axel Tuanzebe and placed an admonitory hand on Darren England, the fourth official.
At that stage the game itself was much more tentative. Although Bielsa’s side dominated an afternoon of few chances they played as if with the handbrake on and seemed to have run out of both ideas and incision.
After watching their team spend most of the season in the top two Leeds fans must now feel like a planeload of tourists heading towards a hot, exotic, luxurious destination only for the aircraft to develop a fault and be forced to land somewhere coldly inhospitable.
The playoffs can be a cruel, forbidding, place for teams like Bielsa’s who are suffering from mental and physical fatigue at precisely the wrong moment
By way of exacerbating Elland Road angst, the semi-final is likely to be against Derby. Considering it is only four months ago since their manager Frank Lampard accused Leeds of spying on his training sessions, further creative tension may beckon. – Guardian