Leeds United 1-1 Aston Villa

Sunday’s game bore all the hallmarks of an end-of-season occasion. Beeston bathed in warm April sunshine as the steady stream of the faithful meandered its way through the streets of LS11.

Gavin Massey, ten-man Wigan and the Griffin Park bee sting meant that the high noon kick off felt more show-up than show-down. There was a muted feeling around the ground, one of a bitterly disappointed support attempting to divert their attention from what might have been.

Inside the ground there was an equally relaxed atmosphere. The successful U23s, led by their captain Hugo Diaz, completed a somewhat sheepish lap of honour as the ground began to fill up.

The Leeds players welcomed the fruits of an apparent baby boom with them onto the pitch. As their young children enjoyed the build-up, the crowd were appreciative and raucous as usual, but the cutting edge that is the mark of Elland Road crowds was absent.

It soon arrived.

What followed was 90 minutes of Machiavellian mayhem, ludicrous refereeing and a good old-fashioned scrap, or what passes for a scrap on a football pitch these days.

Leeds had weathered an early storm and begun to assert themselves onto the game, Jack Harrison inexplicably firing wide a glorious chance in the 9th minute, before the game encountered its first powder-keg moment.

A loose pass in midfield sold Liam Cooper short and with Jack Grealish approaching, the skipper launched himself towards the ball, his right foot steering it towards Kalvin Phillips as his opposite number felt the full brunt of Cooper’s full-blooded but accurate tackle.

Stuart Attwell however shook his head disdainfully. The crowd roared incredulously as Grealish leapt to his feet, brandishing an imaginary red card in animated faux-outrage. Attwell raised a yellow card into the Beeston air.

Seemingly remembering he was mortally wounded, the wannabe England international returned to the turf with which he would become familiar over the 90 minutes, angrily gesturing at the shins his fashionably short shinpads failed to protect.

The blow obviously affected the Villa captain’s balance as he tumbled to the ground in an impressive show of gymnastic ability throughout the first half, gesticulating with angst towards the referee.

The loudest cheer of the first half was an ironic one, coming after referee Attwell awarded the home side a free kick following a foul in their own area on 39 minutes. His career then reached its peak as he strutted over to the technical area to flash a yellow card at Bielsa, whose inner El Loco had bubbled to the surface in the face of shameless simulation and inept officiating.

Incredibly, he managed to raise both temperature and decibels even further on the stroke of half-time, blowing his whistle as Luke Ayling surged onto a Pablo pass inside the Aston Villa penalty area.

With Berardi being unleashed into the gladiatorial colosseum for the injured Stuart Dallas and Tyler Roberts replacing the anonymous Jack Harrison, Leeds looked even more dangerous in the second half, with the latter in particular central to the game’s obvious talking point.

Jonathan Kodjia’s attempted foul on Liam Cooper ended in spectacular failure, the Villa forward falling into a heap as Leeds brought the ball out of defence. Roberts collected on the left wing and slowed to a trot.

The Villa midfield interpreted this as Roberts preparing to tap the ball out of play for Kodjia to receive treatment, but in a display of either pure shithousery or indecisive inexperience, the Welshman slid the ball forward to the marauding Mateusz Klich.

Within seconds, from 20 yards on this occasion, Klich was scoring goals. Cutting in from the left he unleashed an excellent finish past Jed Steer, only to be immediately confronted by Conor Hourihane on the edge of the area.

Villa were incensed, players from both sides came piling in to have their say. The crowd, disproving the common mistruth that this is not what we want to see on the pitch, roared their approval, launching into a chorus of We All Hate Leeds Scum in grinning delight.

During the melee, Bamford fell to the ground in a Grealish-esque collapse, drawing condemnation from both sets of fans, right after he’d earned some respect by launching the irate Hourihane to the turf. The Corkman then exacted revenge, using his captain as a protective screen to land a swift punch to the torso of an unflinching Klich.

When the proverbial dust had settled, Attwell couldn’t even get this one right, red-carding Anwar El Ghazi for his imaginary altercation with Bamford and booking the Leeds striker along with Conor Hourihane for their confrontation.

Starved of Phil Hay’s updates, the crowd craned their necks to see what was transpiring on the line, where John Terry was attempting to engage Bielsa in customary intellectual debate, but as the visitors kicked off following the goal, the Argentine’s intentions soon became clear.

Albert Adomah was the anointed one who brought the ball forward to claim the goal that would even up the score, but not without the characteristically bonkers intervention of Pontus Jansson, whose innate defensive spirit saw him mount some last-minute resistance. One can only imagine the scenes at Elland Road had he succeeded.

The remaining minutes bore out in a microcosm of Leeds’ season post-Christmas. Relentless possession, ten opposition players packing the box, chance after chance created, but the net remaining conspicuously unrippled.

Hernandez and Tyler came closest, seeing their efforts clawed away by Steer and scrambled off the line by Mings, but as the final whistle sounded and the teams exited the pitch with play-off preparation awaiting, we were all left to reflect on Sunday afternoon’s chaos.

What this match showed us is that Leeds are well up for the final push. The aggression, the crunching – but fair – tackles, the continuation of the sparkling football that has been our trademark throughout the season.

Had it not been for his slight mid-season slump, Luke Ayling would have surely pushed Pablo for his Player of the Year award. The full back is an omnipresent threat to opposition teams, pulling wide to offer a consistent outlet, attacking with his inimitable stride and rarely wasting possession.

Phillips was simply sublime in screening his defence, shackling the doubtlessly talented Jack Grealish throughout the 90 minutes, while the industry of Klich and Forshaw had a much healthier feel to it than games where the latter has been in Kalvin’s role.

Tyler Roberts brought impetus to the attack, while his fellow substitute Berardi was an incredibly calming influence when he replaced the unfortunate Dallas, even turning peace-keeper during the post-goal brawl and appeasing the fuming Pontus Jansson after Villa’s equaliser.

Bamford continues to be a concern, not least due to the retrospective ban that could be coming. His movement and clever running often create chances, but as the main striker the team are looking to him to be the executor, rather than the architect of those opportunities.

The Argentine referenced the sportsmanship of the English game during the press conference. I am not alone in hoping this was a tongue-in-cheek jibe at John Terry, but what his magnanimous gesture did reveal is a both integrity and pragmatism.

This game meant nothing in the grand scheme of things, despite what turned out to be a pulsating afternoon. Having gone ahead with a goal that enraged the Villa team, management and support, to let it fester would have been to plaster the Birmingham side’s dressing room wall with motivational copy for any potential play-off meeting.

In defusing the situation created by the abdication of duty from the referee, Bielsa has not only attracted praise from luminaries such as Arsene Wenger but has prevented a potential grudge-match situation from developing.

Villa left Elland Road with what they feel is a deserved share of the spoils, the perceived unfair treatment of their captain their only source of faux-outrage. Bielsa on the other hand has managed to salvage the moral high ground from a situation that threatened to collapse it.

Signs of his infamous reputation have been gradually surfacing over the last few weeks, much to the delight of the supporters that worship the ground on which he walks, the bucket on which he sits.

This display of fight, determination and relentless pressure has rekindled El Loco among the hearts of this squad. Let’s hope we see its full wrath in the Play-Offs.