A busy Monday lies ahead of the FA’s disciplinary staff who will not be keen to let a 1-1 draw between Leeds United and Brentford go quietly. A sly headbutt, suspicions of a dive, missiles from the crowd and a post-match takedown of the referee by a livid Pontus Jansson: it was, by full-time, football for those who like spirits in their coffee.
There were ample amounts of proficient play too between two adept teams and the slickest unit Leeds have met this season but Saturday was an afternoon where incidents on the fringes of the field of vision mattered more than many in the middle of it. That did not stop the man in the middle, referee Jeremy Simpson, taking the heat for losing control but the Football Association has work to do in sifting through his observations.
How honestly Simpson’s match report takes responsibility for way in which the afternoon frayed will never be known but there were several moments which the FA was bound to take an interest in: Ollie Watkins buying a penalty which, to be generous, was on his mind before Leeds goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell slid at him in the 62nd minute; the objects thrown from the South Stand at Neal Maupay after he stuck that penalty away, and an apparent attempt by Brentford’s Sergi Canos to headbutt Gjanni Alioski during a fracas in the away dug-out.
All of that went on before Jansson used a live interview with Sky Sports after the final whistle to accuse Simpson of “robbery” and describe his feeling at the end of the match as “s**t”, despite him snatching an 88th-minute equaliser and fending off Leeds’ second league defeat.
Jansson was asked to tone down his language but the centre-back’s second talent, behind the powerful defending which compensated for plenty of frailty around him on Saturday, is speaking his mind. “I don’t care,” he said. “This was a robbery from the referee so it feels bad. Do you think it should be happy? No chance.”
Leeds United 1 Brentford 1 - things you may have missed: Bielsa's celebration, Orta loses it, Alioski 'headbutt' and Klich goes 'blind'
Simpson’s influence was defining by the end, through a questionable penalty and a 94th-minute red card shown to Luke Ayling for a second bookable offence which looked identical to the foul which Mose Odubajo - already on a yellow - got away with earlier in the second half. For the most part, Simpson’s bigger crime was punctuating a fixture which should have flown fluently with stoppages. Both clubs were there to play but free-kicks ran to 33 and cautions to seven. Marcelo Bielsa started the game in a winter coat but shed it early in the second half as the atmosphere simmered.
It was coincidental that on Thursday, 48 hours before Brentford’s visit, Bielsa had spoken of the quality of refereeing in England and the need for tolerance in the face of errors and dubious decisions. Saturday put that decency to the test. “The most important thing for me is to know if my team played well or didn’t play well,” Bielsa said. “I never say the referee is responsible for our performance. We can't play football thinking the referee will never make any mistakes.”
He might be that generous at heart or it might be that Saturday was an occasion when the result sat comfortably with him regardless. There was an opportunity to contest the validity of Brentford’s penalty and some of Simpson’s other judgements but the scoreline was not a robbery as football understands the term. Leeds had looked like conceding to Brentford before Maupay’s goal and there was an anxiety in United’s play, heightened, perhaps, by the realisation that they were playing at team who intended to hurt them and were good enough to do so.
“We could have lost the game and won the game but it wouldn't be fair to say that we were close to winning the game,” Bielsa said diplomatically. “That was not the case.”
Leeds United’s Pontus Jansson hits out at referee “robbery” after Brentford draw - but then apologises for swearing
Dean Smith, Brentford’s manager, was touted as an outside option for the Aston Villa job this week and Saturday showed why. There is a philosophy in his work not unlike Bielsa’s but, crucially, underlying confidence which allowed Brentford to come to Elland Road and play as openly as they do everywhere else. Jansson found himself mopping up for mistakes early on as Leeds played into the hands of a team who were looking for misplaced passes around the halfway line. One put Maupay into United’s box in the 13th minute. Peacock-Farrell gloved his shot inches wide. Another allowed Watkins to breach the edge of United’s area and produce a strike which deflected off Liam Cooper and onto the top of the crossbar.
“We didn’t dominate but we weren’t dominated either and all the unpredictable situations were in favour of the opponent,” Bielsa said. “But when you want to build the game you need the ball and we had less of it than we wanted.
“The necessity to impose our style made us take excessive risks when we played from the back. We made many mistakes, not because of the opponent but because we were trying to do things. Because of that we had the feeling that the opponent was hurting us and they didn’t make any mistakes that we could take advantage of.”
There was subtle praise in those remarks - satisfaction that Leeds had kept the ball at their feet in spite of any temptation to change tack - and Brentford were not without flaws. Samuel Saiz flashed a shot wide seconds before half-time from a good and unmarked position 14 yards out. Kalvin Phillips was denied in the 57th minute when a corner spilled to him and his shot from a few yards out was turned onto the face of a post by goalkeeper Luke Daniels.
WATCH: Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa speaks to the media following Brentford draw
But four minutes later, Liam Cooper played Leeds into trouble and Watkins broke clear, going down as Peacock-Farrell attempted to dive in and block a chip over him. Smith admitted that he had not seen the incident again but supported Simpson’s decision. “From where I was it looked like a clear penalty,” he said. Video replays were less forgiving of Watkins, who was on the way down before Peacock-Farrell arrived at his feet. Maupay, nonetheless, stuck away his 10th goal of the season and ran towards the South Stand who met him with a volley of objects.
Predictably, the afternoon got messier. Odubajo was booked for taking out Alioski on one touchline but then left alone after doing the same to 17-year-old substitute Jack Clarke. Canos - already replaced by Smith - took a dig at Alioski as the winger fished for the ball in Brentford’s dug-out with nine minutes to go but Bielsa held his nerve, Leeds held theirs and Jansson equalised two minutes from the end by rising to thump Alioski’s deep free-kick back over Daniels.
Simpson still found time in four added minutes to dismiss Ayling for a tackle in keeping with both of Odubajo’s earlier fouls. Ayling had earlier been cautioned for arguing a decision which went against Jansson. Jansson lost patience and turned on Simpson with a short outburst which might cost him a small fine despite him later apologising. Anger, obscenities and yet, despite everything, a good point gained.