The saving grace for everyone as Leeds United and Aston Villa made national news on Sunday was that neither club were at risk of anything season-defining in the bedlam which unfolded at Elland Road.
There was a red card for Anwar El Ghazi, a dismissal which Villa are confident of overturning, and damage to certain reputations, not least Patrick Bamford’s for duping Stuart Attwell into sending El Ghazi off, but the Championship table meant a 1-1 draw for Leeds was as good as a 1-0 win, no matter the fact that Villa were allowed to walk in an unopposed equaliser with Marcelo Bielsa’s blessing.
Bielsa saw no alternative after Mateusz Klich opened the scoring while Villa looked for Leeds to send the ball out of play with Jonathan Kodjia injured in the centre circle.
But his generosity will not save either side from sanctions over the all-out brawl which followed Klich’s goal.
Both are likely to be hit with fines by the Football Association, a month after Leeds were hit with a £5,000 penalty for failing to control their players against Bolton Wanderers.
Klich held his hands up afterwards by apologising to Villa manager Dean Smith and saying he had failed to spot Kodjia lying on the ground as he broke away to score but, in the grand scheme of the Championship run-in, no harm was done.
It was the play-offs either way for Leeds and the play-offs either way for Villa, and United’s players emerged from the chaos with a spring in their step.
They needed something from Sunday and an injection of confidence most of all. Automatic promotion was already gone after a torrid Easter, wrapped up by Sheffield United on Saturday evening, but a potentially flat afternoon against Villa was given an edge and purpose by a contentious performance from Attwell and the scenes caused by Klich’s 72nd-minute strike.
In the background, all the while, was the thought that these two clubs might play again in the play-off final next month, when any amount of controversy could come at the cost of promotion to the Premier League, something Leeds have been chasing for 15 years.
Villa are the league’s form side – the “best in the Championship at this moment,” Bielsa admitted – but Klich said he and Bielsa’s players would be ready for them if both sides make it to Wembley.
“I think the game would look the same because obviously Villa are a good team,” Klich said. “They’ve got very good players.
“We beat them away and we were the better team but it’s a final, it’s one game, and we have a semi-final to play first. There’s a long way to go but I hope we can do it and if we play like this then I’m very convinced we can.”
Leeds will finish in third place in the table unless they lose Sunday’s game away at relegated Ipswich Town and West Bromwich Albion beat Derby County. Their position guarantees home advantage in the second leg of the semi-finals, which start six days later.
Bielsa’s squad stand to play the team who finish sixth and Derby hold that position with 70 points.
County will seal it, barring some unlikely final-day drama, if they win their game in hand over Swansea City tomorrow night, renewing hostilities between Bielsa and Frank Lampard four months on from the controversy of ‘Spygate’.
Bielsa insisted on Sunday that he had no preference amongst the possible opposition in the semi-finals and Klich felt the same. Of the teams who could yet take sixth position, Leeds have beaten Derby and Bristol City twice but drawn on both occasions with Tony Pulis’ Middlesbrough.
“Against Derby and Bristol we had very good games so it could help us but the season ends this week and the play-offs are a totally different thing,” Klich said.
“I don’t think Bristol and Derby will be playing like they did this season because this is for a better life for everyone. It’s going to be more and more difficult and they’re going to be different games. But obviously we won against them so we know what to do. Let’s wait and see. I’ve no preference.”
For all the controversy surrounding Klich’s finish against Villa, the Poland international has found goals hard to come by in the second half of the season, just as Leeds as a team have suffered from a blunt edge up front.
They missed chances again on Sunday but their performance threw off the lethargy and tension of the Easter weekend, when the club lost to Wigan Athletic and Brentford and cleared the path for Sheffield United to knock them out of the top two.
There were signs against Villa of Leeds’ assurance returning, with a more convincing tempo and a raucous onslaught after El-Ghazi’s dismissal left Villa to fend with 10 men for the last 15 minutes.
“I think we needed to play like this,” Klich said.
“We need to be sharp, we need to play our style, we need to be aggressive. It’s all up to us and we’ve come so far. I hope we’re going to get through the play-offs.
“It (Sunday) was very important, not only for me but for the whole team. If you feel good on the pitch and play well and then you build confidence and play well in the next game.
“We want to go to Ipswich, win the game, play like we played here and then focus on the play-offs; win the play-offs because we’ve come so far this season and we don’t want to waste it.”