One tiny regret as Pablo Hernandez ends superb Leeds United career in style
PABLO Hernandez was handed the captain's armband in an emotional final game for Leeds United and produced an energetic display befitting a player half of his age.
The 36-year-old Spanish playmaker and defender Gaetano Berardi are both leaving the club this summer and both were handed starts in Marcelo Bielsa's final XI of the Premier League season at home to West Brom on Sunday afternoon.
Hernandez lined up in his preferred no 10 role in behind lone striker Rodrigo as top scorer Patrick Bamford started on the bench.
After a quiet first five minutes as the Baggies began brightly, a classic pass from Hernandez looked to have led to United taking a seventh-minute lead as the attacking midfielder's whipped low cross from the right picked out Jack Harrison who netted from inside the box.
However, the joy proved short-lived with Rodrigo flagged offside despite possibly not touching the ball.
Hernandez was quickly becoming heavily involved, drifting over to the right and then screaming at referee David Coote for an appeal for a handball.
The 36-year-old then produced a lovely bit of skill to beat Semi Ajayi in the middle of the park before his pass to the left went out of play but another gem of a raking pass for Stuart Dallas followed from the centre circle.
A cross from the right then drifted behind for a goal kick but Leeds went in front soon after when Rodrigo headed home Raphinha's corner.
But as West Brom looked to immediately respond, Hernandez then produced stellar defensive work that Kalvin Phillips would have been proud of in taking several clever touches before clearing on the edge of the Whites box.
The Spaniard was looking for the ball at every opportunity and continued to produce clever passes throughout a frantic first half.
Hernandez often drifted to the right flank but the playmaker then popped up down the left in the 38th minute as he looked to dribble his way into the box only to be tackled.
An uncharacteristically sloppy pass followed in the 39th minute as the Elland Road faithful sang his name but just one minute later the Spaniard was back causing chaos and was fouled by Conor Gallagher on the edge of the box.
Up stepped Phillips to take the free kick which bounced past 'keeper Sam Johnstone to double the Whites lead.
A brilliant one two of sorts with Raphinha then followed as the Brazilian let the pass run through his legs so Hernandez could collect on the other side.
The Spaniard excelled in the first half and stayed on the pitch for the start of the second period as Marcelo Bielsa swapped Rodrigo for Bamford as his only change.
That meant a new attacking partner for Hernandez who quickly linked up with Raphinha for another nice move which ended as Bamford just failed to find Jack Harrison.
Hernandez then went close to scoring what would have been a mesmeric and memorable third goal for Leeds with an attempt from the edge of the box that was saved by Johnstone.
Showing no signs of slowing down, the Spanish star began and ended the move and set himself up for his shot with a beautiful back heel.
Another sublime back heel followed a few moments later as part of yet another Whites attack that ended with a rising Hernandez shot that was saved by Johnstone who had clearly not got the memo.
A rare mistake from Hernandez in his own half then gifted the ball to Ainsley Maitland-Niles but Kiko Casilla saved the day by keeping out his shot.
Back came Hernandez at the other end with a speculative effort that flew over the bar.
The Spaniard was clearly desperate to bag a farewell goal and was yet again denied in the 66th minute when his shot after a superb Phillips pass was deflected just wide.
But it was to prove the last chance as Hernandez and Berardi were both taken off in the 69th minute and given standing ovations.
Both were visibly moved, in particular Hernandez who was then captured by the BT Sport cameras sat in the stands looking on with tears in his eyes after his Elland Road farewell.
Despite his continued attempts, the Spaniard was unable to cap that farewell with a goodbye goal and Hernandez then became the immediate thought when Leeds were awarded a penalty just nine minutes after he had been taken off.
The playmaker would have been a banker bet to take the spot kick but Hernandez can still be hugely proud of his final outing in a Whites shirt.
Moreover, immensely proud of his achievements during a glorious five years with the Whites.
Thank you El Mago, a modern day Leeds United great.
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Thank you Laura Collins