Leeds United 1 Aston Villa 1: Wembley could be stage for enticing rematch
AS the richest game in world football, the Championship play-off final is invariably the hottest ticket in town every May.
Should the 101st meeting between Leeds United and Aston Villa come next month at Wembley with the prize of a place in the Premier League at stake, not only will football be a likely winner but also the touts.
West Bromwich Albion will, of course, have plenty to say about that. As will one from Middlesbrough, Derby County and Bristol City as they chase down sixth place in the final week of the regular seaso n.
But if this chaotic and engrossing encounter is anything to go by then Wembley would be in for a treat if this year’s EFL showpiece is to be a rerun of the 1996 League Cup final.
There was a bit of everything for a capacity Elland Road crowd to feast upon. Scintillating football, full-blooded commitment and no little controversy ensured this is an encounter that will be talked about for years to come.
Much of that chatter will centre on the amazing events that surrounded Leeds taking the lead through Mateusz Klich with 18 minutes remaining.
Jonathan Kodija falling to the turf following a challenge from Liam Cooper in the centre circle saw Villa call for the ball to be kicked out so their striker could receive treatment.
Initially Leeds looked set to comply as Tyler Roberts slowed to a walking pace in front of the two dugouts.
Several Villa players stopped, but then Roberts rolled a pass to Klich, who darted inside Axel Tuanzebe just as the defender realised too late what was going on.
Klich curling a right-foot shot beyond Jed Steer was the cue for scenes of pandemonium. Conor Hourihane immediately grabbed the Polish midfielder by the throat as players from both sides squared up to each other.
Dutch international Anwar El Ghazi became embroiled in a heated row with Patrick Bamford that saw the Leeds striker fall to the ground clutching his face.
Damningly for Bamford, replays clearly showed no contact, but referee Stuart Attwell, on the advice of his linesman, brandished a red card at the Villa man.
Hourihane and Bamford were also booked for their part in a melee that held up play for five minutes.
As the chaos began to die down, head coach Marcelo Bielsa informed counterpart Dean Smith and John Terry that Leeds would step aside and allow the visitors to equalise.
The Argentinian was as good as his word, Albert Adomah strolling forward from the kick-off before rolling a shot into the unguarded net.
Even then, though, Pontus Jansson – having clearly disagreed with Bielsa’s instructions – shaped to try to block the Villa substitute at the last moment.
The amazing scenes were perhaps the inevitable consequence of how these two famous old names had gone toe-to-toe from the kick-off.
Villa had arrived at Elland Road on the back of a club record 10-game winning run, while Leeds needed a pick-me-up after back-to-back defeats over Easter.
As has been the case all season both sides were determined to set the pace and seize the initiative.
Which is how the opening 10 minutes saw both Villa centre-backs Tuanzebe and Tyrone Mings embark on surging runs deep into Leeds territory.
Chances were few and far between in the first half, though that had much to do with the resolve shown by the two defences in the face of some crisp passing moves.
Villa had a couple of headers that went close in those opening 45 minutes, John McGinn’s flicked effort causing Kiko Casilla to scramble across his line before palming the ball to safety.
It was a similar story after the restart, Kodija firing over early on after turning smartly in the area and Adam Forshaw shooting just wide at the other end. Leeds almost won it at the close, but Roberts had a shot blocked and Steer denied Pablo Hernandez.
As all this was unfolding tempers continued to simmer with Jack Grealish invariably at the centre of things.
For the 3,000 travelling fans the midfielder was definitely sinned against after finding himself on the receiving end of several fouls.
To Bielsa’s players and a partisan home crowd, however, Grealish was more the sinner after going down theatrically at the slightest of touches.
Stuart Dallas being penalised on the stroke of half-time left Bielsa so incensed on the touchline that he was eventually booked by Attwell.
It was one of seven yellow cards shown on an afternoon when tempers boiled over and scores were settled all over the pitch.
The last of these came moments after Adomah had levelled the scores with the easiest, if most unusual, goal of his career.
McGinn was the last man to go into Attwell’s book for an awful challenge on Forshaw that smacked of revenge.
Expect more of the same if this stormy encounter does prove to be a dress rehearsal for a May 27 final that will carry the not inconsiderable cash bounty of £170m.
Leeds United: Casilla; Ayling, Jansson, Cooper, Dallas (Berardi 46); Phillips; Hernandez, Forshaw, Klich, Harrison (Roberts 46); Bamford. Unused substitutes: Peacock-Farrell, Brown, Shackleton, Clarke, Bogusz.
Aston Villa: Steer; Elmohamady, Tuanzebe, Mings, Taylor; McGinn, Hourihane, Grealish (Whelan 88), Green (Adomah 69), Kodija (Jedinak 78), El Ghazi. Unused substitutes: Whelan, Lansbury, Bjarnason, Hutton, Sarkick.