What was all the fuss about? Leeds are staying up, Jessie Marsch mission accomplished. “Leeds are falling apart… again,” came the Brentford taunt. But it proved not to be a premonition. They did it the hard way, the day started with their fate in others’ hands, but a madcap victory against nine-man Brentford secured Leeds’s Premier League status.
Midway through the second half, Raphinha’s penalty meant, with Newcastle two to the good, a three-goal swing was required. And relax? Absolutely not: Burnley halved the deficit and substitute Sergio Canos levelled for Brentford.
Two minutes later, the Spaniard was departing having been shown a pair of quickfire yellow cards. Kristoffer Ajer had previously limped off, and in the dying embers, Jack Harrison sparked mass celebrations in the away corner. Naturally, no one had left: Leeds have become accustomed to stoppage-time winners this season.
And so, Leeds get away with it. Their January transfer inertia bordered on criminal, and they leaked goals for fun. But on Sunday just before 6pm, that mattered little.
Any which way one twists it, Brentford have had an outstanding campaign under Thomas Frank. Their season can be split into three parts. A magical start, a suboptimal middle and then Christian Eriksen.
One should not underestimate his impact. Ten league starts brought seven victories and just a pair of defeats. Whether the fairytale continues to be seen, but it was lovely while it lasted.
Pre-match Leeds nerves jangled among traveling supporters and alike players. Dread, fear, excitement, hope all rolled into one stomach churning knot. The team sheet proved no settler.
Patrick Bamford, after an injury-riddled campaign, was out with a bout of Covid. Luke Ayling, Adam Forshaw, Stuart Dallas and Dan James were all tracksuit clad but, for various reasons, unavailable. What a day for Sam Greenwood to make his full Premier League debut.
Kick-off proved no beta blocker either: Diego Llorente’s punt forward charged down by Ivan Toney, Liam Cooper and Illan Meslier survived a miscommunication, and even Kalvin Phillips was dispossessed on the blindside believing he was under no pressure.
Jesse Marsch scribbled furiously, his back-pocket zip or almost certain casualty of the day, such was the frequency with which notepad was removed and replaced.
A roar went up from the white corner as news broke that Callum Wilson had nudged Newcastle ahead at Burnley. Then momentary pandemonium as Joe Gelhart almost burst the Brentford net. VAR intervened, and the flare was stamped out.
Then Brentford took control. Bryan Mbeumo nutmegged Junior Firpo on the touchline before finding Mathias Jensen on the angle of the six-yard box. The chip was audacious, Meslier’s tip necessary.
Eriksen danced from the left but his shot hit Toney and deflected wide. Then Cooper surrendered possession to Jensen who fed Mbuemo: with his weaker foot the shot was dragged across goal. With his stronger foot, Marsch kicked the gate adjacent to the dugout. One suspects half-time saw Mahatma Gandhi redundant, replaced by several home truths.
Fortunately, Marsch had not yet reappeared when Eriksen’s sweeping cross-field pass found Mbeumo via a Jensen flick. The shot was straight at the keeper.
At the other end, Raphinha found Rodrigo but he could not evade David Raya. But Raya’s next act was one to forget. His pass out was straight at Raphinha who intercepted, moved into the box and jinked past the goalkeeper. His outstretched leg felled the forward and a penalty was awarded. Hop, skip, stutter: goal. If that is Raphina signing off, it will do nicely.
And then another goal, not here, but a second for Wilson at Turf Moor. The spot where the news first broke was visible, a domino effect of joyously bouncing sideways Leeds bodies. But then the deficit was halved.
Brentford went down to 10, Ajer unable to continue. Surely all was OK now? Not quite: Mbeumo burst forward down the right and stood up a far post cross. The newly introduced Canos headed past Meslier.
Canos was booked for removing his shirt in elation and then saw a second almost immediately for fouling Raphinha. And then with the last kick of the season, Harrison’s deflected effort from the edge of the penalty area beat Raya, and “Marching on together” reverberated around west London.
Marsch came, he tinkered, he tried his own thing and ultimately kept them up by mimicking his predecessor. It is fair then, to ask whether he will march on with them.