Even on Leeds United's best days, there is light and shade - Graham Smyth's Verdict

It is the shade, the dark moments of the past 16 years that makes the light of Leeds United’s promotion so blindingly white.

Thursday, 23rd July 2020, 5:45 am

This club didn’t just fall out of the top flight, they kept falling and found themselves having to claw their way out of League One.

A 16-year-long chapter of pain and the gnawing ache to return to where they belong, brought to an end with a bang, the fireworks that exploded in the sky around Elland Road as Liam Cooper hoisted the Championship trophy after a 4-0 battering of Charlton Athletic, signalling the start of a new, exciting chapter.

Farewell English Football League, bye bye ‘banter years’ and hello Premier League.

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But even in the celebrations that have greeted the return to the top table, both light and shade have been present.

There have been mixed emotions.

As Cooper put his hands on the club’s first silverware since 1992 on Wednesday night, the noise should have shaken the old stadium to its very foundations. But Elland Road was empty, bereft of the very people for whom promotion means the most.

Norman Hunter should have been banging his fist on the gantry desk in triumph. But he passed away this year and his dream of living to see Leeds back in the top flight was not realised.

CHAMPIONS - Leeds United celebrating with the Championship trophy after a 4-0 win over Charlton Athletic. Pic: Tony Johnson

Marcelo Bielsa celebrated his birthday three days after he wrote his name in the history books as only the fourth man to manage the Whites to a league title. His birthday fell on the same day that Leeds United legend Jack Charlton was buried.

When Leeds won at Derby on Sunday and the players sprayed champagne and danced on the pitch of a team who inflicted heartache on them last season, it should have been pure joy, yet Gaetano Berardi was on crutches, his ACL ruptured by an awkward landing in the game.

Even on the days when it should be perfect, it rarely is. And so it proved, in Leeds United’s final game in the Championship before their ascension to the Premier League.

After the game, fans who were told to stay at home by the club reacted angrily, having missed out on a brief trophy parade involving the players and an open top bus outside the ground.

PERFECT - Ben White scoring his first goal of the season with a sublime volley. Pic: Tony Johnson

Even for those who were present and involved in the party, there is a distance between the celebrating hordes and those they celebrate.

Those fans were locked out of their spiritual home as Leeds played some truly beautiful football. It was crisp and quick. It could be said it was Premier League football, against a struggling Championship side. Whatever it was, it proved too much for Charlton.

The Addicks were cut apart, often, down the right chiefly, as Jack Harrison roamed into space, onto passes from Pablo Hernandez, Mateusz Klich and Stuart Dallas.

It was all very pretty, but not quite perfection, the final ball all that was missing from several moves.

Sometimes, with all the elaborate movement and the tic-tac-toe passing, you just want someone in a white shirt to have a dig. Step forward Ben White, who hadn’t scored this season before controlling a loose ball on his chest and volleying it sweetly past Dillon Phillips into the top corner.

At other times, the passing is all it takes to completely unlock an opposition.

That was the case for Dallas’ goal, Hernandez claiming a nutmeg and an assist with one touch, sending the Ulsterman in on Phillips for a simple finish.

Bielsa spoke before the game about his desire to protect the competition and Leeds were doing their bit for sporting integrity as they poured forward again and again.

Phillips kept Hernandez out, he denied Dallas and tipped Luke Ayling’s 30-yard thunderbolt round the post.

So focused were the Whites on scoring goals that they almost conceded from their own corner.

Alfie Doughty broke away, and a clutch of home players were unable to catch him as he ran all the way to the other end, only to slide the ball wide of Illan Meslier’s goal.

That was Charlton’s only real moment in a one-sided first half but they began the second in much more impressing fashion, Chuks Aneke - one of three half-time subs - bringing a smart save from Meslier.

Any thoughts of a comeback were soon forgotten, Patrick Bamford’s half-time replacement Tyler Roberts heading home a near post corner to make it 3-0, before three youngsters combined to add a fourth.

Pascal Struijk drove a ball down the right for the breaking Ian Poveda, he passed it inside unselfishly and Jamie Shackleton added a cool finish for his second in two games. Leeds kept going, but so did Charlton.

They gamely pressed forward in search of what would be a mere consolation, Anek trying to inspire something, anything.

He came closest to spoiling Leeds’ clean sheet, a downward’s header forcing Meslier into a fine save.

The scoring was done, in this game anyway.

Goals were flying in at both ends of the table elsewhere, former Whites favourite Lee Bowyer taking his eyes off the fixture in front of him to look up into the stands with eyes that pleaded for a sign of a result that could save his side from the drop.

At full-time the visitors hit the turf and awaited a miracle that did not come, their despair in stark contrast to the celebrations going on inside and outside Elland Road.

As a football match, this was a fitting end to a fine season. It wasn’t perfect but it was pretty close to it.

Leeds really have been this good, this much better and were fully deserving of the three points, the top spot, the promotion and the fireworks.

They’re coming out of the shade and into the light of the biggest and best stage in the country.