Championship play-off encounters are always intense, high-stake games as clubs pursue a much-coveted place in the top tier of English football.
But Leeds’ semi-final double-header with Derby, live on Sky Sports, has an added layer of intrigue following the ‘Spygate’ saga between the two sides earlier in the campaign.
- Bumper play-off guide
- How to watch play-offs on Sky
- Prutton’s play-off predictions
In one of the most bizarre incidents of the season, a Leeds employee was removed from Derby’s training ground by police the day before their January league meeting.
Head coach Marcelo Bielsa admitted the member of staff was there at his request with Leeds going on to win the game 2-0.
The incident sparked a furious debate about whether it was not only ethical but in the spirit of the game with Bielsa appearing unapologetic over the incident.
Speaking to Sky Sports immediately after the victory, Bielsa said: “It is not illegal, we have been doing it publicly and we talk about it in the press. For some people, it’s the wrong thing to do and for other people, it’s not the wrong thing to do.”
Derby vs Leeds
May 11, 2019, 5:00pm
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Derby manager Lampard was visibly annoyed before the game, also confirming the same thing happened in the reverse encounter back in August – a game the Rams lost 4-1.
“Leeds can beat you 4-1 because they are a fantastic team, but they had someone in the bushes that day,” Lampard told Sky Sports.
“The man was asked to leave but it wasn’t followed up like it has been this time.”
The following week Bielsa called an impromptu press conference where he not only reaffirmed he took sole responsibility for ‘Spygate’ but also revealed a detailed dossier he accrued for every Championship opponent.
And despite Leeds issuing a public apology which also reminded Bielsa of the club’s principles of “integrity and honesty”, the EFL still took a dim view of the situation.
They were subsequently handed a £200,000 fine by the EFL (which Bielsa reportedly paid himself) and given a formal reprimand with a new rule also created which prohibited teams from viewing opposition training 72 hours prior to a fixture – unless invited to do so.
January’s victory over Leeds may have moved his side five points clear at the top of the table at the time, but they succumbed in the second half of the season, eventually losing three of their last four games and missing out on automatic promotion to Norwich and Sheffield United.
Perhaps with Spygate still in the back of his mind, Bielsa’s decision to let Aston Villa equalise after a controversial goal in their penultimate game of the season was an attempt of atonement for his previous indiscretion.
Either way, the Argentine would have been hoping all the pre-match talk would have been on footballing matters ahead of the sides’ reunion this weekend – appearing irked when a journalist gleefully asked him about the matter.
Bielsa replied: “You make your question knowing that observing an opponent is now sanctioned. You know this perfectly and that’s why you ask this question.
“Then you deny the fact that you know the answer and you know I received a sanction because of it. That’s why I don’t understand that question.”
Lampard has played down the extraordinary series of events ahead of the rivals’ reunion – despite admitting his side has “tried to take some measures” for anyone peeking over the perimeter again.
“What matters is how we prepare,” he said. “Our run-in has pushed us into sixth place, but we mustn’t forget they have beaten us twice and finished above us in the league.