Inescapable factors in Leeds United Wembley woe as what-ifs haunt again - Graham Smyth's Verdict

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Excitement, expectation, hope, nerves, torture, disappointment and despair. This is how it goes for Leeds United at Wembley, where they always end up looking on from the outside as the promotion party goes off.

This club is notorious for doing things in the most conceivably difficult or awkward fashion. Winning the Championship and giving the Premier League a bloody nose without fans there to see it. Leeds, that. Earning 90 points and it somehow not being enough even for second place was yet more proof of that. But having gifted Southampton the only goal of Sunday's do-or-die game, Leeds set themselves up to once again do it the difficult way and then just didn't do it. Star players didn't do it.

Farke's preparations and plans didn't do it. Only the fans, who put on a breathtaking display with the usual soundtrack, did themselves justice. They get where water can't, so were not restricted to simply their designated end. They were in the 'red' end too. One, a Saturday night resident of Wembley Travelodge, paid £600 per ticket for that privilege. "Don't tell anyone," he grinned. In the end there was no danger of being outed because there were no goals to celebrate and only a couple of moments that even threatened one.

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A good start, with Georginio Rutter, Willy Gnonto and Ilia Gruev all busying themselves, came and went without a proper sight of the Southampton net. The Saints rarely marched into Leeds territory but when they did Adam Armstrong ran in behind to cause problems. It was a warning that went unheeded, because midway through the half he was allowed to do the very same thing. Ethan Ampadu went after Will Smallbone, didn't stop the pass and it found Armstrong in acres of vacant space. Gruev saw it developing and did not do enough to prevent it. Illan Meslier saw the ball flash past him into the far corner. One chance, one goal, one foot in the Premier League.

Leeds' problem once the goal went in was not so much getting hold of the ball, they saw plenty of it. But when the time came to do something incisive, accuracy, composure and even luck abandoned them. Never was it more obvious than when a Saints corner was nicked clear, giving Gray the chance to lead a four-on-two counter from deep. With men free to his left and pressure coming, his attempted crossfield switch was deflected to safety.

Up top Joel Piroe wasn't in the game anywhere near as much as Leeds would have liked. Rutter was having his say at least, but not in areas where Leeds would have liked him. The midfield battle was not being won in a manner that allowed the Whites to link defence and attack with any fluidity. At half-time it was 1-0 and it was difficult to see where the big moment was going to come from.

It might have arrived when Joe Rodon pinned back his ears, set off on a run and just kept going, breaking Southampton's shape and reaching the six-yard box. Had he, as Farke lamented, simply rolled the ball to Piroe then Leeds would have levelled. But he ran into trouble and when the ball fell to Crysencio Summerville, he curled wide. No accuracy, no composure.

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It might have arrived, much later on, when substitute Daniel James linked up with Rutter and thrashed a shot over Alex McCarthy and onto the crossbar. It bounced down and away. No luck. In between those two chances was precious little to write home about. Lots of possession, plenty of urgency, players popping up in unusual positions and rotating, but nothing in the way of danger and time just ticking away.

The ball went left, it went right, it went into the area and back out again. Mateo Joseph showed a bit, James showed a lot but the clock showed 102 minutes when John Brooks put his whistle to his lips to send Southampton players wheeling towards their fans and the Premier League in delight, as the Leeds players sank to the turf. The tears flowed, from Archie Gray and Rutter. The Leeds fans flowed out of the stadium and into the realisation that another season of Championship football awaits.

Speaking afterwards Farke made a point of comparing the composure and efficiency of match-winner Armstrong and his own side, once again citing inexperience as a factor. Young players have not cost Leeds a promotion this season, for they carried the charge on their shoulders for the vast majority of it, but it is difficult to escape the sense that a bit more of a seasoned, grizzled element would have helped them over the line.

The loss of Patrick Bamford just as the season hit the business end was hugely unfortunate, even if his hit-and-miss relationship with reliability could not guarantee his presence would bring success. When fit this season he was, at the very least, an out-and-out number 9 who knew where to be and would be there when the ball came. Stuart Dallas and Liam Cooper, for different reasons, found themselves on the outside looking in at a team they could only assist so much in supporting-cast roles.

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It's impossible to ignore the difficult, transfer-exit-riddled start to the season that had to be navigated before they could hit their stride. They did, however, leave on various pitches points that should have gone onto their tally and they left Wembley with what-ifs instead of happy memories. They let a play-off final pass them by without reaching out and grabbing it by the scruff. And they let history repeat, without re-writing the script.

Farke and his squad stood in front of a nearly-empty 'home' end and watched as Southampton climbed the steps to lift their third-place trophy and celebrate. A bitter classic of the Leeds at Wembley genre. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. This club just doesn't do promotion at Wembley. Sunday evening was not the time for positive messages and talk of the future, said Farke. But in time the despair, disappointment and torture of Wembley will fade and the nerves, hope, expectation and excitement will begin to build again. That's football. And whoever is left from the team who experienced this day at Wembley will have every motivation and intention of doing it any other way than the Leeds United way. 

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