Pontus Jansson's pain; Marcelo Bielsa's future, heartbreak at Elland Road and what next for Whites? - Leeds United Talking Points

AFTER seeing Leeds United's bid for promotion shattered by a 4-2 loss at home to Derby County, the YEP's Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points and has the Final Word on Wednesday night's Championship play-off semi-final second leg at Elland Road.

Thursday, 16th May 2019, 1:41 pm
Updated Thursday, 16th May 2019, 2:41 pm
MISERY: Playmaker Pablo Hernandez is left devastated by Leeds United's Championship play-off semi final second leg defeat to Derby County at Elland Road. Picture by Tony Johnson.


No other way to put it and while there was always a danger Leeds would fall short in the play-offs, nobody could have envisaged the promotion dream being ended in such crushing circumstances such as these.

Even Rams boss Frank Lampard commented on the crazy price United were to book their place in the Wembley play-off final with the Whites no bigger than 1-8 and as short as 1-14 after Saturday's 1-0 victory at Pride Park in the semi-final first leg.

Perhaps that was also based on Leeds seeming to well and truly have Derby's measure based on three games and three victories so far this season and an aggregate scoreline of 7-1 heading into Wednesday's second leg at Elland Road.

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Yet now the only score that matters is the 4-3 on aggregate over the semi-final two legs, despite United even doubling their lead on aggregate via the Stuart Dallas opener.

In short, after Kiko Casilla's howler put Derby back in it, Leeds went to pieces in excruciating fashion, trying their damndest to the final whistle but with the damage done and United their own worst enemy with individual errors through Casilla, Liam Cooper and Gaetano Berardi.

Devastating to see such a brilliant season ended in such painful fashion with Leeds looking every inch destined for the Premier League until falling short in first the automatic promotion race and then the play-offs.

Yes, United have been brilliant this season and the squad deserve enormous credit but 2018-19 really should have ended with promotion and Whites head coach Marcelo Bielsa knows it.

Marcelo Bielsa's future and top two a must next term

When the dust has settled, there are still loads of positives to be drawn from this season which at the end of the day was initially geared around the aim of reaching the play-offs, as Kemar Roofe himself admitted after the first leg win at Derby.

But it's not much good finishing in the play-offs if you don't win them and given the huge pressure at stake and the desperation for promotion at Elland Road, there's a strong sense that if and when Leeds ever get out of English football's second tier then it will need to be through the automatic promotion spots.

The pressure seems unbearable through the play-offs - too much to handle - and the atmosphere at Elland Road on Wednesday really was something else. Like nothing else mattered and that either leads to glorious success roared on by partisan support or panic all round when things start going wrong.

It will ultimately now be a ninth consecutive season in the Championship which could be a very winnable division next term with Fulham, Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town coming down and Luton Town, Barnsley and one of Portsmouth, Sunderland, Charlton Athletic and Doncaster Rovers coming up.

It could well be that West Brom along with whoever loses the play-off final out of Derby and Aston Villa will be the two teams for Leeds to aim that.

IF Leeds can keep Bielsa and the core of the team - and add to it - they should have every chance of finishing top two next season, especially considering the club's talented youngsters with Jamie Shackleton leading the way and surely pushing to be a regular starter next term.

It is now basically up to Bielsa what happens next.

Leeds clearly want him to stay - why wouldn't they - and United will propose to extend the head coach's contract which the 63-year-old who has transformed the Whites will hopefully accept.

Even Bielsa has made mistakes this term and a Leeds side with the right reinforcements under Bielsa in a second season in charge really could take next season's Championship by storm if that's the way it pans out.

That, though, is the if and the last thing Leeds need is to be on the managerial hunt for another new boss this summer.

Bielsa looked like being the one and almost certainly still is.

More goalkeeping woes

It was naturally hoped that the arrival of triple Champions League winning shotstopper Kiko Casilla would sort out United's goalkeeping problems once and for all though Bailey Peacock-Farrell could well argue that he deserved to stay in between the sticks.

The early signs from former Real Madrid custodian Casilla were promising enough without blowing you away but the habit of rushing off his line and outside of his box had been a huge concern in the last few games.

That trait led to Derby's opener after a mix-up with skipper Cooper and Leeds would surely have progressed had they taken a 2-0 lead on aggregate into the break.

Casilla was then lucky to get away with another mad rush outside of his area just moments later and Leeds are again left with questions over the goalkeeping position over the summer.

Casilla signed a four-and-a-half year deal at Elland Road when joining in January, contracted until the summer of 2023, and Leeds and Casilla thus badly need to make this work in which case the mad haring off the line simply has to stop.

Story of the season as missed chances prove key

There is a strong argument that United have ultimately now paid the price for not doing enough in the January transfer window with Swansea City winger Dan James the one that got away.

With pace to burn, he would have made a big difference but it's now a case of ifs and buts and at the end of the day ten points from a final 12 would have put Leeds in the Premier League through the autos.

Prior to the Good Friday clash against Wigan at Elland Road, you can also highlight the defeats at QPR and Birmingham City as pivotal moments though on both occasions Sheffield United let Leeds back in.

The last four games presented one final chance but instead of taking ten points United amassed just one through the 1-1 draw against Aston Villa and Bielsa has readily admitted on numerous occasions this season that the poor conversion rate of taking chances has cost Leeds dear.

Leeds were needing 12 goalscoring opportunities to score one goal in their final four league games and despite netting twice against Derby on Wednesday, plenty of opportunities again went begging with the exemplary finishing of Stuart Dallas - easily United's best player on the night - the only exception.

Once again, a healthy amount of attempts yielded a disproportionate return with Leeds having 22 shots on goal with eight on target and just two goals. Not quite one in 12 but one in 11.

That, mixed in with the individual errors that have been creeping in, as proved fatal.

Kemar Roofe finishes the season as United's top scorer with 14 followed by Pablo Hernandez with 12 and then Patrick Bamford and Mateusz Klich with ten each.

Roofe and in particular Bamford's spells on the sidelines with injuries need to be remembered but Bamford fell well short of what Leeds needed in the second leg and however the problem is attempted to be solved, United simply must be more clinical in front of goal to stand any chance of automatic promotion next term.

Gaetano Berardi's seventh red card and Pontus Jansson's pain

You could analyse Wednesday's game all you want but the chance has now been and gone though Bielsa opting to start Gaetano Berardi over Pontus Jansson at centre-back looked a very big call with the rest of the team pretty much picking itself.

Berardi was excellent in the first leg win at Derby as Jansson missed out with an ankle injury but the Swede returned to training this week and looked all set to start as he powered out on to the Elland Road turf in usual Jansson fashion to check out the pitch 90 minutes before kick-off.

Bielsa had revealed in his pre-match press conference that in his opinion Jansson had been United's best player this season so however impressive Berardi was at Pride Park, it was a big call leaving such a player on the bench for the biggest game of the season.

It backfired with Berardi losing control and sent off for a second yellow card for the seventh red card of his Whites career and after he had been dismissed the writing was on the wall.

Jansson, meanwhile, who stayed on the bench, provided the image of the night long after the full-time whistle when sat completely alone beside the advertising boards with his head in his hands in front of an empty stand.

Jansson has worn his heart on his sleeve and every single Leeds fan shares his pain.

Thanks for the memories - and Leeds will be back

Alas 2018-19 somehow failed to end with a return to the promised land of the Prem and it will now be Oakwell and Kenilworth Road instead of the Etihad and Emirates next term.

Mind, it could still be the Eithad for Manchester City winger Jack Harrison whose loan spell is now over with Izzy Brown now also returning to Chelsea.

As loan spells go, Brown's could not have gone much worse but he and Harrison leave with best wishes with the very popular and likable Harrison having provided the odd moment of magic this term though not on a frequent enough basis - frustrating as the talent is definitely there.

Still, Harrison's equaliser at Millwall will live long in the memory as one of this season's high points and each and every fan will have their particular favourite be it Stoke at home or Derby away in August, the 3-0 win at Norwich who somehow recovered to win the league, the 2-0 Spygate success at home to Derby, the crazy 3-2 epic at home to Millwall or the 4-0 thumping of West Brom in March.

Or the personal favourite - the mad 3-2 win at Aston Villa two days before Christmas in which United fought back from 2-0 down to seal a sensational 3-2 victory through Roofe's late winner. A Christmas miracle and that day especially it felt like Leeds were definitely going up.

Alas, the team that suffered late pain that day - Villa - are now the ones one game away from the Premier along with Derby and it's hard to fathom how so many positive memories this season have not been rewarded with promotion.

But what a season it has been - an emotional rollercoaster of highs and lows - one week definitely going up, the next certain to blow it and crash and burn.

It ultimately ended in tears yet this is Leeds United who will be back to fight another day.

See you all in August.