Leeds United’s hopes of automatic promotion to the Premier League this season are over after manager Marcelo Bielsa sportingly allowed Aston Villa to score an uncontested goal in a remarkable draw between the two sides.
An entertaining and even game, which confirmed automatic promotion for Sheffield United, will be remembered for the 72nd-minute Mateusz Klich goal that sparked an already passionate encounter into a total loss of tempers at Elland Road.
Leeds initially opted to play on following a challenge by home defender Liam Cooper, which flattened Villa striker Jonathan Kodjia, before Tyler Roberts then appeared to be ready to put the ball out for a throw-in.
But Roberts instead passed the ball forward to Klich and, with the Villa defence flat-footed, although offside, he was allowed to run on, cut inside and curl a low right-foot shot just inside the post.
In the ensuing heated aftermath, Villa’s Ahmed El Ghazi was wrongly red carded for an alleged elbow on Leeds striker Patrick Bamford, who was shown up by TV cameras to have simulated his fall to the turf.
But, in astonishing scenes, Leeds boss Bielsa ordered his players to allow Villa to equalise, and Albert Adomah was allowed to run through to score, almost unchallenged, into an unguarded net.
Having been held for the first time since the 1-1 draw at Stoke in February, although still unbeaten in 12 games, Villa’s failure to win means that they now cannot catch fourth-placed West Bromwich Albion and look almost certain to finish fifth in the Championship.
They could yet meet Leeds again in the play-offs, either in the semi-finals or the final. But it is more likely that they will play neighbours Albion, unless the Baggies win at Derby next Sunday and Leeds fail to win at relegated Ipswich.
From flat to remarkable
With the chief promotion issues sorted a day earlier and both sides missing their respective top scorers, the injured Kemar Roofe and Tammy Abraham, it was expected that this game might prove a little flat.
But it was a heated affair throughout, as best highlighted by Bielsa’s first-half caution by referee Stuart Attwell for a breach of protocol in the technical area.
Genuine chances were few and far between until Kodjia turned well to meet a low right-wing cross from Ahmed Elmohamady, only to balloon over on the half-volley from 15 yards.
Villa looked to have penalty claims when Gaetano Berardi upended Kodjia in the area, then El Ghazi set up Neil Taylor, only for the marauding Villa left-back to have his effort deflected over by a brave block from Pontus Jansson.
But it all kicked off when Leeds went ahead with Klich’s goal, an episode that drew comparison with the famously replayed game that followed Marc Overmars’ winner in similar circumstances in an FA Cup fifth-round tie for Arsenal against Sheffield United at Highbury in February 1999.
This time, Klich’s moment of thoughtlessness proved only a temporary glitch as, in the turmoil that followed, after a touchline exchange of words with Villa boss Dean Smith, Bielsa kept his cool and orchestrated Villa’s equaliser.
But not before Villa’s Conor Hourihane and Bamford had both been booked, while the injured Kodjia followed El Ghazi down the tunnel to briefly leave Villa done to nine men.
The incident was not quite over yet either as Jansson, not quite in tune with his team-mates, even tried to prevent Adomah scoring.
Although Mile Jedinak did come on as substitute for Kodjia, Villa still played the final 15 minutes of normal time, plus seven minutes of added time, a man down.
And Leeds came close several times, but for a goal-line clearance from Tyrone Mings, a Hourihane block and a great save from Jed Steer, who had been struggling with a injury and was close to coming off.