Unlikely friendship revealed by post-match message after Pascal Struijk hands Leeds United relegation lifeline

Leeds United defender Pascal Struijk was heartily congratulated after his late equaliser against Brighton and Hove Albion gave the Whites a fighting chance of retaining their Premier League status.

By Flora Snelson
Monday, 16th May 2022, 11:45 am

United boss Jesse Marsch dropped Strujk to the bench in favour of Junior Firpo for the final home game of the season on Sunday, and brought the Dutchman on in the 83rd minute as the hosts were pushing hard for a vital leveller after Danny Welbeck gave the Seagulls a 1-0 lead.

With his first Premier League goal of the season, Struijk was the provider. In the second minute of injury time young Joe Gelhardt, after humiliating Lewis Dunk with some self-assured skill, chipped the ball toward the back post where the towering defender was arriving to nod the ball home and send Elland Road into raptures.

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The crucial goal takes Leeds United out of the Premier League drop zone, giving them a one-point advantage over 18th-placed Burnley. Though United's fate remains out of their hands, Struijk's header means that relegation will be decided on the final day and won't be sealed midweek when the Clarets and Everton play their games in hand against Newcastle United and Crystal Palace.

After the Brighton draw, Struijk shared photos of his goal celebration on social media, where a number of his Whites teammates chimed in with their appreciation for his potentially season-altering contribution.

Also among the well-wishers were Liverpool midfielder Harvey Elliott, who has this season struck up something of an unlikely friendship with Struijk. One hour into the Whites' 3-0 defeat to Liverpool back in September, Struijk was involved in a nasty challenge with Elliott, who was then stretchered off with an ankle fracture-dislocation.

Before the severity of Elliott's injury became apparent, referee Craig Pawson indicated for play to continue and it was only after a VAR review that Struijk was shown a straight red card for the tackle. The FA later rejected Leeds' appeal over the dismissal and Struijk served a three-match ban.

Pascal Struijk celebrates equalising for Leeds United against Brighton and Hove Albion. Pic: George Wood.

Meanwhile, Elliott was sympathetic to Struijk's suspension after the freak accident, and sent a public message to the defender to tell him he felt the red card was 'wrong'.

The teenager underwent surgery and has since enjoyed a successful recovery, scoring his first senior goal for the Reds when he returned to action for Liverpool's 3-1 victory over Cardiff City in the fourth round of the FA Cup, which the club lifted on Saturday after beating Chelsea on penalties in the final.

Now, it seems, Elliott bears no grudge against Struijk, who he called his friend in his Instagram comment following the Whites' momentous draw with Brighton.

The 19-year-old wrote: 'Love it amigo.'

Liverpool midfielder Harvey Elliot receives treatment for his ankle injury at Elland Road. Pic: Oli Scarff.
Harvey Elliott celebrates scoring his first Liverpool goal against Cardiff City on his return from injury in February 2022. Pic: Clive Brunskill.