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.
‘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.
Scott Minto was presenting for Sky Sports at Elland Road that night, and he describes what it was like as the tension ramped up.
“The whole running order of the show was ripped up,” he explains. “We had done all our prep in the days before and then travelled to Leeds, and then this massive story breaks.
- Championship fixtures
- Championship table
- Leeds vs Derby
“We arrived at the ground and it all felt very different. It is a rare thing to get big, breaking news like that on the day of a game, so it was all so fresh and exciting to cover. To give credit to Bielsa he wanted to come out and talk, and it added a huge element of importance to the show.
“I would have thought it would have impacted more negatively upon Leeds as they were the ones being called unsportsmanlike, but it seemed to have more of an effect on Derby. Leeds, meanwhile, seemed to rise to it. They came out and it was one of their best displays of the season, and probably one of Derby’s worst. It was quite surprising.”
‘There was a definite edge, you could feel it around the stadium’
Fate would then conspire to pit the two against each other in the play-off semi-finals, and Leeds once again displayed their dominance with a 1-0 win in the first leg at Pride Park.
History was on their side ahead of the second leg four days later. No side had ever won the first leg of a Championship play-off semi-final away from home and not made the final.
To add to the sense of occasion, Leeds fans had coined a new song in ‘tribute’ to Derby boss Frank Lampard, although little did they know how much it would come back to haunt them later.
“There was a definite edge, you could feel it around the stadium, but I just didn’t see a Derby win coming before the game,” said Minto. “It wasn’t the fact Leeds had dominated the first leg, but all three meetings before, both home and away. It seemed like they had their number.”
The atmosphere before the game at Elland Road was remarkable. “Every Leeds fan was holding their scarf in the air, it was an incredible memory that will live with me forever,” Leeds fan Thomas Bradley told Sky Sports. “We took the lead on the night through Stuart Dallas and it just felt like nothing could go wrong.”
‘I didn’t give us a prayer’
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.”