THE DUST settled on the John Smith’s Stadium with two head coaches sent from their dug-outs and an absorbing derby shaded by Huddersfield Town.
Something tells you these clubs are not quite finished with each other yet. There was bitter hostility after Leeds United conceded in the last minute of normal time and the play-offs threaten to renew it in May.
Michael Hefele’s tap-in separated two teams who were fighting to a standstill and his goal was the cue for an all-out brawl as David Wagner sprinted through the away dug-out, collided with Garry Monk on his way back up the pitch and sent players and staff flying into a mass of scuffling in front of the tunnel. When the fighting died down, Wagner and Monk were dismissed by referee Simon Hooper, a likely precursor to charges from the Football Association.
Wagner will least be able to see any touchline ban as a price worth paying for the outcome of a derby which Leeds and Huddersfield were quietly dying to win. For Monk, who has already served one suspension this season, it was an additional cost on a day when Leeds came up short and gave Huddersfield too much ball when it mattered. Monk took issue with Wagner’s behaviour, accusing the German of lacking “humility, respect and class”. He could not take much issue with the result.
Hefele, Huddersfield’s centre-back, stuck away the last chance before the game lost its marbles but Leeds had been soaking up pressure for the previous 20 minutes and had done well to hang in at 1-1. Monk described himself as “gutted for my players” and counted Leeds unlucky but most complaints afterwards were aimed at apportioning blame for the trouble in his technical area. Wagner took a large share of it, celebrating in the style of Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford in 2004 by sprinting the length of the touchline to jump into a crowd of his players. As he jogged back to his technical area, Monk stepped in front of him and gave Wagner a nudge and the pair went head-to-head. Pontus Jansson and Gaetano Berardi were on the scene before long and chaos ensued.
“It was just emotions,” said Wagner, in a vague apology immediately after full-time. “Like most teams, both managers wanted to win the game. For me it’s in the past. I now look forward.” Monk was in no mood to be conciliatory. “My technical areas’s my technical area,” United’s head coach said. “If someone comes across and runs into you, what can I do about it?”
Contact from FA awaits but the scrap with Wagner was the least of Monk’s concerns. Leeds dug a 2-1 win out of Wednesday’s trip to Blackburn Rovers with a late goal at Ewood Park but they conceded the weight of chances to Huddersfield yesterday and buckled under them in the 90th minute. It was nothing like Leeds’ meek surrender to Town at Elland Road in September but for the second occasion, Monk’s squad were beaten by the better team. From the moment that Izzy Brown opened the scoring with 25 minutes gone, Huddersfield looked more dangerous and more physically dominant. There is no doubt where confidence will lie if these sides meet together in the play-offs.
Chris Wood’s 35th-minute equaliser and an encouraging cameo from Alfonso Pedraza – quick, slick in possession and unlucky not to score with a shot a few moments after appearing as a substitute – were highlights for Monk in match which threatened to get away from Leeds late in the first half and got away from them finally when an Aaron Mooy shot deflected to Hefele three yards out. Even a centre-back could not miss from that range.
There will be more significant meetings to come should the play-offs draw the club’s together but yesterday’s derby was as weighty as any in recent memory; no longer boiling down to which mid-table side could wave two fingers at the other. The brawl at the death said it all. There was parity between them in so many respects: fourth in the league against fifth before kick-off and nine wins from 11 on Town’s record against eight wins from 11 on Leeds’. Monk labelled Huddersfield “favourites” beforehand. In truth there was no edge at all.
The respective line-ups made it apparent that Monk and Wagner had given each other’s strengths some serious thought. Monk recalled Pablo Hernandez and paired Ronaldo Vieira with Liam Bridcutt, giving his midfield some steel against Mooy and Jonathan Hogg. Wagner withdrew two dangerous but diminutive players in Brown and Nahki Wells and threw 6’3” German Collin Quaner up front, a ploy designed to make the centre of United’s defence sweat and a one which worked. There was enough on both benches to promise an explosive finish.
The changes and the tactical thinking did not stop the clubs serving up a splendid first half in which Brown appeared as a substitute and scored with his first touch before Wood replied with his 21st goal of the season. Leeds were tight and tidy initially, keeping most of the early exchanges in the Huddersfield half and leaving Rob Green on the periphery. A low save from Town’s Danny Ward, diving to beat away Wood’s shot from an angle, was an isolated opportunity before United’s top scorer equalised, but Monk got what he wanted in the form of Vieira and Bridcutt putting a foot into Wagner’s midfield.
There was aggression in the football and heavy tackles from Vieira and Bridcutt which Hooper allowed to pass without a yellow card. He was not so lenient when Luke Ayling caught Chris Lowe with a high boot on 20 minutes. Huddersfield were still looking for a sight of Green by then but it came immediately as Quaner’s shot from Kasey Palmer’s weighted pass drew a diving block from the England international.
Palmer’s act was his last before injury ended his afternoon and brought Brown on from the bench. Wagner could hardly have asked for a quicker impact from the on-loan Chelsea youngster. Leeds had already got away with a clearance from Jansson which rebounded off Quaner’s foot and landed on the roof of Green’s net when full-back Tommy Smith whipped a dangerous cross into the box, finding the run of Brown who smashed the ball in off the underside of Green’s crossbar.
Town’s energy surged and for the remainder of the half chances fell more regularly to them. But on 35 minutes, a cross from Hernandez was flicked on by Bartley to an unmarked Wood inside Huddersfield’s box. Town looked en masse for a flag, slowing to a standstill, but Wood knocked the ball around Ward and tapped the ball into an empty net, levelling the game. Ward’s complaints to Hooper fell on deaf ears and replays of the incident showed Wood to be onside. Dermot Gallagher, the former referee, conducted an impromptu interview with Huddersfield’s stadium announcer during the break and backed the decision, to cheers from the away end.
It was a shot in the arm for Monk, coming in a spell where Huddersfield tried to put themselves of sight. Blocks from Berardi and Green, the latter a superb point-blank parry, kept out efforts from Elias Kachunga and Quaner and Hefele nodded a free header a fraction wide of Green’s right-hand post from a Kachunga corner. For 15 minutes after half-time, the teams poked at each other until the changes came. Monk let new arrival Pedraza loose and the Spanish winger’s first effort, a clean hit from 25 yards, forced Ward into a sprawling block. At the other end, van La Parra failed by inches to turn home Brown’s low centre and Quaner opted to chest down a cross which found him alone and was begging to be put away with a simple header. By the 65th minute, Wagner had replaced them both.
Monk’s second deadline-day signing, Modou Barrow, was given the final 14 minutes but the arrival of Eunan O’Kane for a tiring Hernandez on 83 minutes to go was a sign of United’s boss trying to tighten things up. Kachunga had gone close just before, stabbing a cross from Chris Schindler wide with an outstretched foot inside the six-yard box, and the stronger finish came from Town. With 89 minutes on the clock, Mooy’s shot bounced kindly to Hefele who made no mistake with a gift of a deflection.
Tempers frayed and retribution followed before Monk took himself down the tunnel and Wagner watched injury-time from the stands.
This simmering rivalry has plenty of life left in it.