The ill-tempered and combustible relationship between managers Frank Lampard and Marcelo Bielsa had further fuel poured upon it by referee Craig Pawson in a moment of high controversy at Pride Park.
Derby were trailing to Kemar Roofe’s goal in their play-off semi-final first leg when Pawson pointed to the spot after 77 minutes after Leeds midfielder Jack Harrison tangled with Jayden Bogle and appeared to pull him to the ground.
But, after consulting assistant Eddie Smart, Pawson reversed his decision, instead awarding Leeds a free-kick and adding to Derby’s years of frustration and misery in their attempts to win promotion in the post-season.
Roofe had struck 10 minutes into the second half from the first mistake made by either defence during a cagey opening to the semi-final first leg.
Harrison’s long pass was well aimed but exploited gaps unseen to that point and helped by referee Craig Pawson’s excellent decision to play advantage after a Tom Lawrence foul.
Roofe was composed and calm and gave Kelle Roos no chance with his clinical finish.
Making a fourth visit to the play-offs in the last six seasons, Lampard’s team was very much looking for an improvement on their solitary Wembley appearance in that spell, and a defeat to QPR five years ago.
They certainly opened the game with the intention of making an early statement in an already strong rivalry that was further fuelled by January’s “Spygate” when Bielsa sent staff to spy on the Rams before a league meeting which his side won 2-0.
But the only moment of real concern for the visitors came when Gaetano Berardi was required to make a committed and well-timed block to prevent David Nugent’s near-post shot from troubling keeper Kiko Casilla.
Instead, Leeds began to take control of midfield, even after Adam Forshaw was replaced by Jamie Shackleton due to injury, and the Rams spent much of the first half attempting to soak up the pressure from visitors who had lost three and drawn one of their final four games of the regular season.
Mateusz Klich pounced on a cleared corner with a long shot that flew well over then set up Stuart Dallas whose more composed attempt curled just wide.
The increasingly threatening Roofe - a goalscorer in both of the league games won by Leeds against Derby this season - forced Fikayo Tomori into an athletic and important clearance and even forward Tom Lawrence joined the rearguard action when he headed behind to thwart a brilliant far post delivery from Stuart Dallas.
The pressure built in the opening moments of the second half, Harrison presented with a shooting opportunity from a deflected Roofe cross only to strike the ball against Richard Keogh.
But the goal quickly followed and, after it, so might more.
Within moments, Derby surrendered possession in midfield and Harrison, once more, probed gaps in the home defence, finding Roofe whose effort, this time, was well saved by Roos as he dived to his left.
Leeds should have doubled their lead just after the hour, when substitute Shackleton burst down the right and crossed for Pablo Hernandez who mis-cued his effort at the near-post with the goal seemingly at his mercy.
Derby finally responded with Liam Cooper booked for a foul on the home team’s Harry Wilson on the edge of the area, presenting the on-loan Liverpool youngster with a free-kick which he could only plant directly into the wall.
Had Roos not made an acrobatic flying save to keep out Shackleton’s late strike, the evening might have ended on an even more sour note for the home side.
Derby (4–1-4-1): Roos 7; Bogle 7, Keogh 6, Tomori 7, Malone 6; Johnson 6; Wilson 6, Holmes 8 (Bennett 69, 6), Mount 6, Lawrence 7 (Huddlestone 86); Nugent 6 (Marriott 63, 6). Subs (not used) Carson, Jozefzoon, Evans, MacDonald.
Leeds (4-2-3-1): Casilla 7; Ayling 7, Berardi 7, Cooper 7, Dallas 7; Forshaw 6 (Shackleton 23, 7), Phillips 6; Hernandez 6, Klich 6, Harrison 7; Roofe 9 (Clarke 80). Subs (not used) Peacock-Farrell, Brown, Struijk, Gotts, Bogusz.
Referee: C Pawson 6
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