Red card and goal start no bar as Leeds go up
Leeds United 2 Bristol Rovers 1
Sunday 09 May 2010
The last time there was a hung parliament, one Elland Road veteran noted before the game, Leeds won the League championship. This time the prize was more modest – escape from the third tier via the second-past-the-post system – but it was celebrated as if a crack at the Champions' League awaited Simon Grayson's side next season, especially after they contrived to do it the hardest way possible.
On an afternoon that lurched between tension and tumult, Leeds played for two-thirds of the match with 10 men after their Ivorian attacker, Max Gradel, was sent off for violent conduct. Gradel had to be escorted from the pitch by security guards after Jermaine Beckford and Michael Doyle struggled to prevent him getting to referee Graham Salisbury.
Leeds then fell behind just after half-time to a goal created by the Rovers player the capacity crowd blamed for Gradel's dismissal, the defender Daniel Jones. And with results elsewhere going against them, they looked set for the purgatory of the play-offs.
Two goals in four minutes each side of the hour mark transformed the contest and pushed Leeds over the line. The equaliser came from a substitute, the locally born Jonathan Howson, and the winner, with a certain inevitability, wasfired in by Beckford, who was captain for the day on what was almost certainly his final appearance for the club.
Grayson, the boyhood Leeds supporter who took Blackpool up from League One in 2007, said: "There have been a few bottles of champagne consumed, and rightly so. We never do things easy at our football club, but we showed fantastic desire and determination."
The Leeds manager added that he was "disappointed" with Gradel's reaction but was "still uncertain" exactly why he had been ordered off. "We still had a genuine belief we could get back into it after they scored, and full credit to our fans for keeping us going."
Leeds knew victory would confirm promotion behind Norwich but made a jittery start. Gradel, ironically, appeared the most likely source of a breakthrough, only to rush his crosses. When a firm but fair challenge by Jones, a burly defender on loan from Wolves, left him writhing on the floor, Gradel went in search of retribution.
The pair squared up to one another, Gradel putting his head into Jones' face, upon which his opponent fell to the ground clutching it. When Salisbury produced the red card, the Leeds player reacted furiously and had to be forcibly restrained from confronting the referee. Eventually Gradel was marched away, but Jones' every touch was booed – with Grayson and his coach Ian Miller also making their feelings plain to him as he came off at half-time.
"This game's too big for you," sang the Leeds Kop to the referee with every decision that went against them, though the criticism appeared more suited to their own players. The situation went from bad to worse on 48 minutes when Jones crossed from the right and Jo Kuffour cut the ball for Darryl Duffy to turn Leigh Bromby and score from six yards.
Briefly, the Leeds crowd were cast into silence and Rovers' anthem "Goodnight Irene" filled the void. Just when it seemed it might be Goodnight Leeds, however, Neil Kilkenny's cross was laid off by Luciano Becchio for Howson to curl a 20-yard shot past Mikkel Andersen.
If the Dane was blameless then, the same was not true of the deciding goal. His throw hit Beckford and fell to Bradley Johnson, who cut in from the left for a shot which Byron Anthony cleared only as far as Beckford. The striker, restored to the starting 11 after a four-game exile on the bench, crashed home his 31st goal of the season and Leeds, to the cacophonous relief of their fans, sweated out the final 27 minutes.
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