Crazy is not exclusively reserved for the Champions League. Derby County put in an incredible second half performance to secure a place in the playoff final at the expense of Leeds United. Jack Marriott was the surprise hero, coming off the bench to score twice to set up a mouth-watering matchup with Aston Villa, where Frank Lampard will come up against John Terry in the opposition dugout.
So often a game is described as the perfect advertisement for Championship football, but this match exemplified that cliché. Fans could only watch on in awe as the momentum and score line swung one way then the other in a whirlwind affair.
Leeds have been sublime all season, and manager Marcelo Bielsa has been a breath of fresh air for the Championship. English football’s biggest sleeping giants had narrowly missed out on automatic promotion after stuttering at the crucial final stages of the season. Despite opening the scoring to give themselves a 2-0 lead on aggregate, Leeds could not be accused of stuttering in this second leg. Derby were simply superb, playing out of their skin in the second half to turn the tie on its head and seal a phenomenal victory.
No love lost between the two sides
This was a matchup that has only recently boiled over into a heated rivalry after the “spygate” controversy of January and the fiery first-leg that unravelled on Saturday. Derby went into the second-leg facing a 1-0 deficit and an electric Elland Road crowd. Every Leeds fan was given a free scarf, and these were held aloft as the teams lined up, creating a formidable atmosphere and reminding Derby it was not just the score line against them.
The second-leg resumed from where the first had left off, with four yellow cards brandished in the opening 20 minutes. Scott Malone and Pablo Hernández scrapped on the side line as tensions flared.
Derby, aiming to muster a shot on target this time around, were direct, dogged and determined. But Leeds looked fluid and composed. Kalvin Phillips expertly marshalled the midfield, as Leeds caught out Derby’s high press with a number of flowing moves.
A turn of pace from Patrick Bamford looked to have got Leeds in behind in the opening exchanges. The hosts were awarded a free-kick, Bamford demonstrating similar theatrics that had earned him the suspension that left him absent for the first-leg.
Leeds take the lead
Bamford was fouled again inside the Derby half, and the subsequent free-kick was swung in by Phillips, avoiding every player on the way in before crashing against the post. Stuart Dallas was the fastest to react to put Leeds 1-0 up and double their advantage on aggregate.
Moments later, the woodwork was rattled again, a Mateusz Klich shot from outside the area deflected off Richard Keogh and onto the bar.
Leeds looked the more likely to get the game’s second and put the tie to bed. Bamford felt the full force of Keogh inside the penalty area. Referee Anthony Taylor blew up, but booked Bamford for diving, much to the former Chelsea youngster’s dismay.
But just as Leeds were beginning to assert their dominance, Derby bit back. A leaping Bennett saw his header clatter the post, with Bradley Johnson’s arms already raised in celebration.
Holmes was forced off for the visitors, with Jack Marriott entering the fray. His first touch was one to remember. A comical mix up between Kiko Casilla and Liam Cooper in the Leeds back line left Marriott with a gaping goal. His anticipation and natural striker’s instinct was rewarded, the youngster confidently slotting the ball home.
Leeds had looked the better side and were deserving of their aggregate lead, but Marriott’s goal on the stroke of half time suddenly blew the tie wide open.
Second half starts with a bang
Within 40 seconds of the restart, Derby had another. An intelligent pass from Harry Wilson picked out Mason Mount. The Chelsea youngster just about kept his footing and scooped the ball into the top corner. Derby now led 2-1 on the night and were level on aggregate.
With the momentum in their favour, Derby looked dangerous, pouring forward in numbers. Mount had another effort well saved. This left the visitors exposed on the counter attack, Leeds coming close to taking advantage. It was fast and frantic stuff. Pausing for breath was not an option.
Just before the hour mark, Derby made it 3-1, taking the lead in the tie for the first time. Mount surged into the box and was tugged back by Cooper as he ran onto a Tom Lawrence pass. Taylor pointed to the spot and Liverpool loanie Wilson calmly dispatched the penalty. Ice cool composure from someone so young when the stakes were so high. Tie well and truly turned.
Leeds refuse to accept defeat
But just as the impetus looked to be with the visitors, Leeds fought back. Fullback Dallas put the finishing touches on a slick move with the composure of a seasoned striker as the game continued to swing one way then another. 3-2 on the night, 3-3 on aggregate.
The fixture had all the ingredients for the most dramatic of matches, bar a red card. Step up Gaetano Berardi, an aggressive lunge earning him a second yellow. Leeds down to 10 men for the remaining 12 minutes.
One more twist in a remarkable game
Just as the tie looked to be destined for extra-time, Keogh dispossessed Bamford on the halfway line and marauded forward. He found Marriott inside the Leeds penalty area with a pass that could have come from an elegant Spanish number 10, not a burley Derby centre-half such was his vision and the weight on the ball. Marriott finished exquisitely to cap a remarkable super-sub performance.
Still time for one more dismissal, Malone receiving his marching orders for a second bookable offence.
Derby saw the game out after 95 breath-taking minutes of solid footballing gold. Heartache for Leeds, whose 15 year absence from English football’s top flight goes on, despite finishing 9 points ahead of their victors. Whether Bielsa will be at the helm for another promotion challenge next season remains to be seen. Lampard meanwhile will be delighted with his first season in management. He will lead his young side out at Wembley against Aston Villa on May 27th.