Leeds United v Derby County 15th May at Elland Road play-off semi-final second leg

With one thing after another happening kicking you when you are down together with grid locked roads all around us, it was a relief to get to Elland Road in time for kick off. The one thing it did though was give me no chance to worry about the game ahead of us. I knew once the game kicked off that I would be able to forget about things for a while but I felt we’d missed out on the build up to the atmosphere. With only a one goal lead, there was still hope at this point that we’d do this and although slightly nervous, the tie was in our hands. I’d be happy when it was 10pm though then at least we’d know for certain what happened next. The stat I’d found incredulous on Saturday, was hearing that out of the 46 games we had been in the automatic promotion spots in 42 of them.

It didn’t take long to start taking photos and it was nice to be thanked for sharing my blog by one fan who had been caught on camera a few times this season. Getting into the Kop there was a great atmosphere below the stand that started to get the juices flowing. Leeds fans all over the ground had been given a scarf on our seats today which was a nice gesture by Leeds and Victor Orta had been putting them out personally. They reminded me of the silk scarves we used to wear in the 70s so thank you for that. As the teams came out to a crescendo of noise, it felt like something we had never witnessed before. Despite having attended games for over 50 years, this will take some beating and would be up there with the best. Scarves twirling or held up, it was a fantastic sight and something I will always be proud of being part of.

The team: Casilla, Cooper, Ayling, Berardi, Phillips, Hernandez, Harrison, Bamford, Shackleton, Dallas and Klich. Subs: Clarke for Klich (86) and Brown for Bamford (88). Leeds lost the game 4-2 with Dallas getting a brace for us (24 and 62). Attendance was 36,326 with 2,653 Derby fans. Leeds lost on aggregate 4-3 meaning Derby meet Villa in the Championship play-off final at Wembley.

With the Leeds crowd in full voice it took a while for us to settle into the game and I certainly didn’t want Derby to get an early goal. It was vital we gave them nothing and when Dallas put the ball into the net in front of the South Stand after Cooper’s header had hit the post that gave us a two goal cushion on aggregate. We were unlucky not to get a second goal when Klich’s shot hit the cross bar but bounced down on the wrong side of the goal-line. I didn’t realise that Bamford was booked for diving as I’d decided not to bother wearing my glasses, superstitions and all that!! Whilst we’d kept attacking (the best form of defence) I’d not been worried about Derby at all. The last five minutes or so saw us slack off for some reason. We then hit the self-destruct button once again when Casilla made an error coming out when Cooper was trying to shield the ball and let Derby in to score right on half time. That was the difference between going in with a two goal lead but instead we had given Derby a lifeline. Casilla did exactly the same thing a short while afterwards nearly presenting Derby with another goal. Why he has to continuously hare out of his goal when he has no chance of getting near the ball is beyond me. The teams went off at half time with expletives ringing in Casilla’s ears from me!

The second half had barely kick off when Derby scored again more or less straight away to equalise on aggregate.  All because of that goal before half time in my eyes which was a crucial one not to give away. We should have taken the lead again when Harrison had a great chance only to see the ball kicked off the line before Dallas brought a save out of their goalie. There were shouts from everyone around me that we should have had a penalty for hand ball. Although I didn’t see it myself fans around me said it was blatant but no officials made the decision. A penalty was awarded to Derby though a short while later when their player went down in the area and they sent Casilla the wrong way to put them 3-1 up on the night. What a turnaround for Derby but so predictable from Leeds sadly. The game wasn’t over though, as Dallas got his second goal of the night to equalise on aggregate. With the tie looking to go into extra time and penalties, neither of which I wanted, we were reduced to 10 men when Berardi was sent off. We’d been fouled twice and the ref played on before Berardi got his revenge and a red card. As we regrouped Derby started to attack us and Bamford was robbed of the ball by being too lightweight. They then put the nail in the coffin by scoring their fourth on the night putting an end to our promotion hopes. Once again with the game in our hands, we threw away that opportunity. I only had slight stomach churning probably because I’d seen it so many times before. We were so close yet so far away. I found that I wasn’t as upset as I thought I’d be probably because I was resigned to the failure once again. As I pointed out to Hannah my granddaughter, this is part of being a Leeds United fan and how it prepares you for being a good loser. Character building it is called. It was a bit of a tongue in cheek saying this time though because I was adamant we had to gain promotion this year; our best chance for years and we’d thrown it away. My ambition for this season had always been aspire for the top two and go up automatically as we had to get promoted this year otherwise we would never do it.

Only time will tell how we pick ourselves up for next season in the Championship. For me there will be no excuses but it has to be automatic champions. Matching this season’s performances will be hard though with all the injuries we have suffered to the squad. Replicating most of the games will depend on who is part of our squad going forwards. A must is we have to keep Phillips and not cash in on him. We have to build the team around him and our other youngsters and have some older heads amongst them. I’m not happy with Casilla tonight and as I said all those months ago I would have kept Peacock-Farrell in goal as we had to build our team about the youngsters and I would have made Casilla fight for his place. Whether he has got too complacent I don’t know but seeing his suicidal charges out of goal have made me scream at him for his incompetence.

As someone who won’t be going on the Australia pre-season tour, I hope everyone has a great time. I would love to have been part of it but cannot be. We must have a flying start to next season and recruitment will be a vital part of that. I will be taking a break for a few weeks from my blog but will turn it into a book and season review in due course for those who are interested. I will post details up when available.

To all those fans who have supported me, had photos taken, chatted, or just been part of following Leeds United, I thank you all and appreciate all you have done to help me through some tough times. Although these are not over yet and won’t be for a long time, I salute you all. Just keep the memory of the sight of our fans in the stands at the start of this game and realise that it is special being a Leeds fan.  Our support is unique and don’t ever lose that feeling. See you all next season – LUFC – Marching on Together. 

Heidi Haigh – A fanatical Leeds United supporter of over 50 years

Author of the following books:

Follow Me and Leeds United

Once a Leeds fan, Always a Leeds fan

Co-author with Andrew Dalton of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Leeds United

The Sleeping Giant Awakens, Leeds United 2016-17

Back to Reality, Leeds United 2017-18