ALL around were scenes of dejection and devastation, as the reality hit home that a lot more than just three points had likely been lost.
Leeds United had just surrendered control of their own destiny in the push for the Premier League, Gavin Massey’s double clinching a quite stunning victory for 10-man Wigan Athletic.
Sheffield United, having beaten Nottingham Forest earlier in the day, were the gleeful recipients of a result that even by Championship standards took some believing.
As the final whistle sounded to the backing of 750 joyous Wigan voices, Patrick Bamford and Ezgjan Alioski immediately slumped to the turf.
Twenty or so yards away, Kemar Roofe and Luke Ayling both stood, hands on hips, staring into the distance, while Pablo Hernandez looked equally lost in thought when rocking back and forth on his haunches.
All were reactions more commonly seen at Wembley after a whole season’s work has just gone up in smoke courtesy of defeat in a play-off final.
Leeds are not at that stage. Not yet, at least. But this still felt like a defining day in the two-way Yorkshire scrap to join leaders Norwich City in the top flight.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side had no lack of opportunities to rescue at least a point against a Latics side who arrived at Elland Road with the worst away record in the Championship.
Leeds conjured a mammoth 36 efforts on goal in 90 minutes, 10 of which were on target. But there was an air of desperation about the hosts throughout that meant most of those shots were rushed.
Too many crosses were also pumped aimlessly into a penalty area that belonged to a dominant Wigan defence who made light work of being without Cedric Kipre for all but the first 14 minutes.
His red card for blocking Patrick Bamford’s shot on the line with what referee Scott Duncan wrongly adjudged to have been a hand should have been the prelude to a convincing home victory.
Instead, Pablo Hernandez fired the spot-kick against the post and even going ahead shortly afterwards through Bamford’s tenth goal of the season was not enough to settle down a Leeds side who had run out of fresh ideas long before the end.
“We had all the ingredients to win deservedly,” said Bielsa, who is not expecting captain Liam Cooper to be fit to face Brentford at Griffin Park on Monday.
“Everything was in our favour. Destiny gave us a hand. A red card for the opponent, a penalty we missed and many chances to score. This was a game that we had to win. And it was a game that we could have won. But we didn’t. This is a very serious result in the worst moment. The only relief we can get is to be promoted.”
The final few weeks in a season as keenly fought as this one has been between two old Yorkshire foes can do funny things to even the most experienced campaigners. Just ask Hernandez and Kiko Casilla, both one-time Spanish internationals.
Former Real Madrid goalkeeper Casilla, the holder of three Champions League winners medals, twice recklessly rushed from his area early on to put his side in grave danger.
Both times he got away it, just, Leon Clarke being extremely unfortunate to see his 25-yard lob bounce wide of the post after latching on to a woeful Gaetano Berardi back pass and then skipping past the goalkeeper.
By then, United were ahead courtesy of a terrific finish from Bamford. But even that had come in the wake of Hernandez’s fluffed penalty.
It was a rare error from someone who has been the driving force behind United’s push for the Premier League. But also far from his last on a hugely frustrating afternoon for the playmaker.
Initially, Hernandez’s miss did not look like inflicting any lasting damage. Bamford, courtesy of a delightful first touch from an Ayling pass just three minutes later that took him clear of the defence, was able to steady himself before drilling an emphatic shot past Christian Walton.
As Elland Road roared its approval, all seemed well in the world of Leeds United. Paul Cook, however, was determined not to let the hosts have it all their own way.
The Liverpudlian, to his immense credit, stuck with two men up front despite that early red card for Kipre. Such a bold approach was rewarded on the stroke of half-time, a slip by Alioski allowing Massey to race clear before beating Casilla.
Leeds continued to press after the restart but Wigan hit the hosts with the ultimate sucker punch.
Clarke, the on loan Sheffield United striker, created the opening by heading Nathan Byrne’s deep right-wing cross into the path of Massey and he made no mistake from eight yards.
Cue a final half-hour that was more akin to a game of attack and defence, Pontus Jansson joining Bamford and Kemar Roofe up front in the hope his physical presence could unsettle the Latics.
The ploy failed miserably. If anything, Wigan should have had the game’s fourth goal. Reece James, a tower of strength in midfield, made the break and looked to be hauled down by Adam Forshaw only for referee Duncan to wave play on.
Whether Leeds have waved goodbye to their automatic promotion hopes remains to be seen. But this defeat means it is very much advantage Sheffield United in the quest to escape the Championship.
Leeds United: Casilla; Ayling, Jansson, Berardi, Alioski; Phillips (Forshaw 46); Hernandez, Roberts (Roofe 46), Klich (Clarke 70), Harrison; Bamford. Unused substitutes: Peacock-Farrell, Dallas, Davis, Shackleton.
Wigan Athletic: Walton; Byrne, Dunkley, Kipre, Robinson; James (Garner 90), Morsy, Massey (Powell 74), Evans, Naismith; Clarke (Olsson 66). Unused substitutes: O Evans, Gibson, Windass, Roberts, Powell.