Jack Harrison scored yesterday’s, waiting until the 95th minute at Brentford to secure the insurance-policy win which copper-bottomed Leeds’s Premier League place for another season.
As it turned out, it was not needed, with Burnley losing 2-1 at home to Newcastle United, but the three-point margin made safety look more comfortable than it actually was.
When Harrison’s shot hit the back of the net you could see the relief in Diego Llorente, punching the turf with ecstasy, the Leeds bench – those not on crutches at least – ran onto the field, Joe Gelhardt and Sam Greenwood running all the way over to the far corner where the visiting players were celebrating with their delighted fans.
Before the game could restart, the final whistle had gone at Turf Moor.
Much as fans might prefer to forget it, 2021-22 has to stand as a warning and we will only know the lessons have been learnt when these last-minute rescue acts become rare treats, not regular features.
Leeds, who lost the cursed Patrick Bamford to Covid-19, cannot ignore the bad decisions amongst the bad luck. One has a habit of following the other.
At full-time owner Andrea Radrizzani came on too to join the party, as did director of football Victor Orta. Both will feature in the post-mortem, with the quantity and quality of recruitment over the past two years contributing to the club’s predicament. Radrizzani’s post-match statement spoke of a “painful season for everyone... blighted by injuries to key players” but there was more to their under-achievement than just that.
But as the visiting contingent clustered in a corner of the Community Stadium, Leeds were united again.
Tellingly, the fans who chanted Marcelo Bielsa’s name as a show of dissent before the game seven days earlier against Brighton and Hove Albion turned around sang Marsch’s this time, not that he was all that happy about it.
“I don’t want them to chant my name, I want them to chant who we are,” he said. “This is not about any one person, certainly not about me.
“What’s most important is we are Leeds United and the United part of our name is who we are at all moments at all times.”
The inquests can wait, but a team which was ninth the previous season sailed dangerously close to the wind.
Perhaps fortune favoured Marsch’s bravery. Deprived of Bamford just as he got himself fit enough to finally play for the first time since last March, the coach’s selection was courageous.
For the second game running, Gelhardt led the line but much more surprisingly fellow 20-year-old Greenwood was picked ahead of Polish international Mateusz Klich in the two of the 4-2-3-1. Greenwood is a forward who adapted very well, Klich another member of the Bielsa core whose phasing out appears to have unwittingly hit fast forward, whether through choice or injuries.
The Leeds players’ nerves were obvious as soon as the game kicked off, though.
When they played the kick-off back to Llorente, Ivan Toney closed him down to win a corner.
Ilan Meslier and Liam Cooper ran into one another as the goalkeeper came out to clear and almost spilt a ball Yoane Wissa hooked his way over the byline.
Even Kalvin Phillips’s passing was not always perfect, but he exuded the coolness Leeds needed. Greenwood soon nudged forward to give his team-mate more space.
Brentford failed to take advantage and a ripple of excitement went through the away end when Burnley conceded a penalty at home to Newcastle. On the back of it Harrison played Gelhardt through for a cool finish but as Callum Wilson tucked away the Magpies’ penalty, video assistant referee John Brooks chalked off Gelhardt’s goal.
Phillips was caught out in the 40th minute, a square ball allowing Wissa a shot Meslier dealt with comfortably. Bryan Mbeumo should have hit the target when Cooper over-ran the ball, but dragged wide.
Leeds came to life in the 54th minute, Robin Koch helping Meslier’s long ball on to Raphinha, who fed Rodrigo to shoot at the goalkeeper.
Two minutes later they were given an even better chance to go in front, David Raya kicking straight at Raphinha, who was brought down.
Raphinha ramped up the tension with a hop and a skip before planting a perfect penalty.
Soon after Newcastle scored a second. With Leeds lining up a free-kick in front of their fans at the time, they could not possibly have been unaware.
Leeds tried to stick, bringing on Pascal Struijk for Gelhardt and were helped when Kristoffer Ajer went off injured with all three Brentford substitutes on.
But Burnley pulled a goal back and so did Brentford, Sergi Canos finding far too much space to power a far-post header from Wissa’s cross. He was booked for his celebration, and again two minutes later for fouling on Raphinha. Leeds realised they had to twist and within minutes of coming on, Klich had a couple of shots.
Harrison had a shot deflected but when the corner came out to him, he made sure with his next attempt to send a small corner of the Community Stadium into ecstasy born of relief.