Marcelo Bielsa maintained his view that Leeds United had deserved a top-two finish in the Championship as he and the club considered their next move in the aftermath of a sobering defeat to Derby County.
Bielsa dismissed the idea that his squad had punched above their weight by competing for automatic promotion and reaching the play-off semi-finals, bemoaning a missed opportunity following Wednesday’s semi-final drama at Elland Road.
Leeds were beaten by Derby after a 4-2 defeat on the night, losing 4-3 on aggregate and surrendering an advantage gained in a 1-0 win during the first leg at Pride Park on Saturday.
Bielsa’s side were in control having established a 2-0 aggregate lead in the first half but lost their composure badly after confusion between Kiko Casilla and Liam Cooper shipped a goal to Jack Marriott seconds before the interval.
United dropped into the play-offs after allowing second place to slip away in the final month of the season, succumbing to the pressure of a tight race with Norwich City and Sheffield United.
Bielsa, whose future as head coach is up for discussion, said: “You have to accept the pain. I feel very sad first of all for the players. I don’t think there’s anyone who feels more pain.
“It’s never good to compare pain but for me it’s hard to believe that someone is suffering more than my players.
“I also feel sad for the pain of the fans because I know it’s big. This is the responsibility I have to assume.
“It’s very difficult for a head coach to take on the disappointment of all these people, especially when I make two conclusions: firstly about the difficulties this team overcame and also the results this team has reached.
“It might make us think that this team reached a point which was higher than we thought they could but that isn’t true. The team deserved to finish first or second and we had the conditions and the skills to win the play-offs.”
Stuart Dallas’ early strike at Elland Road left Derby on the brink of elimination but Casilla’s misjudgement of a high ball over Cooper allowed Marriott to roll the ball into an unguarded net on the verge of half-time.
County went onto score three times in the second half through Marriott, Mason Mount and Harry Wilson and Leeds were left in a hopeless position by a red card shown to Gaetano Berardi 12 minutes from the end.
Bielsa refused to point the finger at Casilla’s error, saying: “You can’t imagine playing a game without any mistakes.
“You could say ‘the goal happened for this reason’ but we had a 20-minute loss of control, we had a player sent off and that’s why we have to take the game as a whole. We can’t just analyse specific moments.
“Until minute 40 of the first half we had five chances to score and the opponent didn’t have one. You’re asking if this mistake was the beginning of what happened after but I can’t think like that.”