Leeds had already thumped Derby in their first meeting of the season then won the second 2-0 amid the controversy of ‘Spygate’.
It was an incident that would intensify a sense of ill-feeling between the two clubs, spawn an unforgettable chant, and culminate in one of the most incredible nights of drama in Championship play-off history.
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‘We arrived at the ground and it all felt very different’
Live on Sky Sports before their second meeting of the season on a freezing Friday night in January, Marcelo Bielsa fronted up and admitted that he had indeed sent someone to spy on Derby’s training session.
Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa has admitted that he sent a member of staff to Derby’s training ground earlier this week
Highlights of the Sky Bet Championship play-off semi-final second leg between Leeds and Derby
For many Derby fans, it felt as though the tie had gone at Pride Park. “I didn’t give us a prayer,” Derby fan Ollie Wright admitted to Sky Sports.
“We had been managed so comprehensively in the first leg, what grounds for optimism were there at Elland Road? The Spymaster had us sussed. Lampard was too green to ruffle Bielsa. They were a fearsomely drilled unit with the tactical edge over us. I expected nothing.”
The moment that turned the tie and gave the Derby fans belief came just before the break. Kiko Casilla, who had arrived from Real Madrid in January to supposedly solve Bielsa’s goalkeeping worries, made a critical error to allow Jack Marriott to score. That made it 1-1 on the night, brought Derby back into it, and spread a little panic around Elland Road.
“Even just before Leeds had scored the opener on the night I felt Derby were in the game,” Minto adds. “They looked a different proposition to all the other times they had faced Leeds and I just felt that, as long as they didn’t panic, even at 2-0 down on aggregate, they had a chance.”
‘Yet again, we had created a disaster for ourselves’
Shortly after half-time Mason Mount levelled the tie, and before the hour Harry Wilson struck from the penalty spot to give them a 3-1 lead on the night, and a 3-2 advantage on aggregate.
“Euphoria had quickly turned into panic,” said Bradley. “We were in cruise control and, yet again, we had created a disaster for ourselves. It was almost like the voice of the crowd and the anticipation of the win was actually working against the players.”
Minto agrees. “The Casilla mistake turned the tie in favour of Derby,” he added. “It felt like the momentum was completely with them.
“There was so much pressure on Leeds, there was so much expectation after going so close all season, and by the end I wasn’t surprised to see Derby go through.”
‘It was one of the most thrilling games I have ever been at’
Leeds actually hauled themselves back into it as Dallas notched his second of the night four minutes after the Wilson penalty to make it 3-3 on aggregate. But a Gaetano Berardi red card with 12 minutes to go put them up against it. With five minutes left to go Marriott struck again and Derby were off to Wembley.
“What I got was by far and away the best football moment of my lifetime of supporting Derby County – a delirious, ‘I was there’ night.” said Wright. “A dramatic and deeply satisfying triumph for the Rams that we couldn’t have scripted better if we’d tried.”
Leeds vs Derby
September 21, 2019, 12:00pm
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The feeling was different in the home end. “When that full-time whistle blew, it was a raw feeling of emptiness and a sinking feeling in my stomach that we might just never do it,” said Bradley. “We might never get out of this league. It was heartbreaking.”
No one who was at Elland Road that night will forget it in a hurry. “It was one of the most thrilling games I have ever been at,” said Minto. “The atmosphere was incredible and it felt like being a part of footballing history.
“It felt like it wasn’t just a Championship game, it felt like a top-flight game with top-flight meaning. I can’t think of a better game I have covered in four years of doing the Championship.”