When Leeds United teenager struck late for slice of short-lived play-offs joy
LEEDS United will discover their final opponent in next season’s Premier League today.
Either Brentford or Swansea City will be joining Championship champions Norwich City and runners-up Watford in the top flight.
The Bees or Swans will take their place at English football’s top table via today’s Championship play-off final.
The dreaded “p” word – play-offs – not a word of which the Whites were fond.
Incredibly, all five attempts at being promoted through the play-offs between 1987 and 2019 were unsuccessful.
But whilst the joy was short-lived, Leeds did enjoy moments to savour in end-of-season shoot-outs such as the 2-0 triumph at Carlisle United in May 2008.
Leeds were having just their third assault at any kind of play-offs, two years after the heartbreaking defeat to Watford in the Championship play-off final of May 2006.
Kevin Blackwell’s Whites had booked their place in the play-off final by progressing past Preston North End in the semi-finals after a 1-1 draw at Elland Road was followed by a 2-0 win at Deepdale.
But defeat to the Hornets was to follow and Leeds were then relegated to League One the following season.
The Whites finished fifth in their first season in English football’s third tier which meant a third crack at the play-offs, having first experienced them way back 1987 when bidding for promotion from the old Division Two.
Back then, the Whites overcame Oldham Athletic in the semi-finals after a 1-0 win at Elland Road was followed by a 2-1 defeat at Boundary Park, putting Leeds through away on goals.
Defeat to Charlton Athletic in the final followed and, 21 years later, a third play-offs quest began against a Carlisle side that had finished one place and four points above Leeds in fourth.
The first leg at Elland Road saw Leeds fall to a 2-1 defeat, meaning victory in the second leg at Brunton Park was essential.
And thanks to a Jonny Howson brace, the Whites booked their place in the play-offs final only for defeat to Doncaster Rovers to follow.
Leeds found Cumbrians ’keeper Keiren Westwood in terrific form in the first leg, in which Carlisle led 2-0 within five minutes of the second half.
Danny Graham had fired the visitors in front two minutes after the half-hour mark and Marc Bridge-Wilkinson doubled the advantage with 40 minutes left.
Westwood had notably denied Jermaine Beckford and Dougie Freedman, but Freedman finally netted in the 95th minute to bring the Whites to within one goal.
Leeds still faced a tough task in the second leg as Carlisle boasted the best home record in the division.
But Freedman’s strike proved crucial and ensured a 2-0 triumph at Brunton Park booked United’s place in the final.
Whites boss Gary McAllister admitted that Freedman’s late strike had given his side momentum heading into the second leg and Leeds then struck an early blow at Carlisle.
Howson’s low drive beat Westwood with just 10 minutes on the clock making the tie 2-2 overall.
But the game looked to be heading to extra time until Howson and Leeds struck again in the 90th minute.
Just seconds after it had been announced that there would be just one minute of added time, Freedman’s cute lay-off worked the ball to Howson towards the edge of the box but still some 25 yards out.
Carlisle’s defence backed off and it proved costly as the 19-year-old took the ball to the edge of the area before unleashing a fine low drive which flew past Westwood and into the bottom right corner.
The goal broke Carlisle hearts as Howson raced away to celebrate after sparkling bedlam in the away end. Leeds were one game away from jumping back out of the Championship at the first attempt – but Doncaster were not reading the same script.
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Thank you Laura Collins