Pablo Hernandez's tears, benching Kalvin Phillips and can Leeds United recover to have ultimate last laugh? The Final Word

PAIN: Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa goes to comfort a very upset Pablo Hernandez following Monday's 2-0 loss at Brentford.
PAIN: Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa goes to comfort a very upset Pablo Hernandez following Monday's 2-0 loss at Brentford.
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AFTER seeing Leeds United's automatic promotion hopes dealt a likely fatal blow at Griffin Park, the YEP's Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points from Easter Monday's crushing 2-0 loss at Brentford.

What went wrong and can Leeds recover?

Leeds approached the Easter weekend knowing that ten points from a last possible 12 would seal an automatic promotion place.

There were even mathematical possibilities of sealing automatic promotion in Monday's clash at Griffin Park should Sheffield United slip up in their two assignments over the weekend.

Instead, the effects of a 2-0 defeat at Griffin Park coupled with a six-point Easter haul for the Premier League-bound Blades has Leeds facing the very likely prospect of their top two hopes being over even before kicking a ball in Sunday's penultimate game of the season at home to an Aston Villa side who Leeds are likely to find the team to beat in the dreaded play-offs.

So what went wrong? Pressure? Nerves?

Nobody ever said taking ten points from a final possible 12 would be easy and it has to be remembered that Good Friday's visitors Wigan Athletic are scrapping for their lives in a bid to beat the drop.

But Brentford are about as mid-table as it gets and, more to the point, Leeds have already shown this season they are capable of beating any side in the division and comprehensively too.

As was the case in Friday's loss to Wigan, the Whites again bossed both possession and the shots count with 18 attempts at Griffin Park compared to Brentford's 12 and 63 per cent of possession.

But yet again, the percentage of United's attempts that actually hit the target was again extremely low with only three attempts testing Bees custodian Luke Daniels.

Brentford also only managed three shots on target but crucially two of them found the back of the net and United's lack of a cutting edge in front of goal has been the story of their season.

Yet even allowing for the healthy number of attempts on goal, Leeds have still massively lacked their usual swagger and fluency in their last two games with mistakes also creeping in at the other end.

So will United be able to regain their stride for what is now almost certainly going to be a bid for promotion through the play-offs and more to the point, will United's players be able to recover from the obvious emotional blow at letting such a glorious opportunity slip through their hands?

Plenty of people have quite rightly stressed the point that almost everyone would have settled for a place in the play-offs at the beginning of the season but that was before Bielsa's hugely improved Whites lit up the Championship with football that suggested automatic promotion could be theirs.

Emotionally, there's a big difference between jumping into the play-offs from seventh or eighth to dropping into them from the top two.

It's not yet mathematically over but it says it all that Sheffield United are 2-9 to beat already-relegated Ipswich Town at Bramall Lane on Saturday and victory in that will leave the Whites goosed considering their inferior goal difference.

If Ipswich can cause a shock then great, though even then Leeds would need to halt the momentum of an Aston Villa side that have now won ten in a row, not to mention needing to do the business at Ipswich and another Blades slip up at Stoke on the final day.

More likely is the fact that Leeds might well need a result at Ipswich on the final day to avoid finishing fourth and facing Villa in the play-offs semis.

Leeds are only five points clear of fourth-placed West Brom who have a better goal difference and finish with a home clash against third-bottom Rotherham United and trip to sixth-placed Derby County - possibly the side most likely to face the Whites in the play-off semis with Middlesbrough and Bristol City the other protagonists in that battle.

Unbelievable to be even contemplating such a thing given United's golden opportunity to finish top two.

There was almost a feeling on Monday that promotion had gone, that Leeds were destined to another season in the Championship, when the rewards for winning the play-offs are the same as finishing in the top two in terms of a place in the Premier League.

On song, Leeds would have every chance of winning them - even if Villa have won ten in a row - but everything now depends on if United can regain their composure and free-flowing, high press and attacking best.

Big ifs that will only be answered in the next four but hopefully five games with the very sad sight of Pablo Hernandez's tears at the full time whistle telling you all you needed to know.

The return of Liam Cooper

If there is any sort of positive at all to take from Monday's loss then it comes in the shape of captain Liam Cooper's return from a two-game absence with a pulled glute muscle.

Leeds rather got away with Cooper's absence in the 1-0 win at home to a pretty toothless Sheffield Wednesday but the Whites were all at sea against Wigan with Cooper then straight back in the side for the clash at Brentford.

In truth, Leeds were caused just as many problems with Neal Maupay a complete nuisance and Sergi Canos causing mayhem but Cooper has been vital to United throughout the season and with all roads seemingly now leading to the play-offs, at least Leeds have their captain back to take them into them.

Adam Forshaw or Kalvin Phillips?

Monday's other undoubted talking point concerned Marcelo Bielsa's decision to bench Kalvin Phillips with Adam Forshaw instead selected in the midfield holding role.

Phillips, for many, has been United's stand out player this year with the 23-year-old named in the Championship team of the year yet Bielsa opted for Forshaw who he felt could thrive as a more "dynamic" player than Phillips against a Bees side with one upfront.

In his defence, Forshaw did not have a particularly bad game and things looked promising with the 27-year-old pulling a few strings as United dominated the opening exchanges with Forshaw showing good composure on the ball and picking out some decent passes.

But matters very soon went pear shaped and the physical, defensive presence of Phillips that Bielsa eluded too was quickly being missed with United's defence and midfield at sixes and sevens against Brentford's pace.

It will be interesting to see how Bielsa now plays it against Villa on Sunday but on what we have seen this season, Leeds look a much better side with Phillips in it.

Changes for Villa with Alioski's season done

Bielsa will also have to decide whether or not to make any further changes after suffering back to back defeats for only the second time this season.

Patrick Bamford or Kemar Roofe upfront or both? Should the impressive young Jamie Shackleton be given a chance and is it time for changes in the no 10 role and on the wings are all other imponderables and it is also to be hoped that Bielsa can get Jack Clarke back to the promise seen earlier on in the season.

Also, there will definitely be a change at left back with Leeds confirming on Tuesday that Gjanni Alioski is out for the season with a knee injury meaning the very versatile and dependable Stuart Dallas will almost certainly slot in there.

That will mean a spare slot on the bench and perhaps even a late chance for Izzy Brown or even Ryan Edmondson who are among the other attacking options for a side who badly need to be netting more goals.

Edmondson clearly reamins very young and inexperienced but it's getting to the stage where the 17-year-old might well be worth a go from the bench.