The English football season is almost over. There are play-off finals in the coming week to determine the final promotion places in the second, third and fourth tiers of the professional game. In the top division, the Premier League, last Sunday’s final round of fixtures settled the few remaining issues, mainly related to European qualification. The relegation places had been confirmed with three matches to spare, and Manchester City were crowned as champions even earlier than that.
For the first time in 18 years Leeds United, the team that I have followed since childhood, finished the season in the top division, outside the relegation places. There were always at least six teams below Leeds and a run of four wins from the final four games meant a final league position of ninth, as you can see in this screenshot, taken from the BBC website:
For most of the previous two seasons I posted regularly about the team’s progress, with screenshots showing their position in the Championship. The last of these pieces is here, from July 2020, and I noted that it would be at least a year before I posted another screenshot of Leeds in the Championship. I am happy to report that it will be at least another year before such a thing is possible.
From the opening game, last September’s 4-3 defeat at Anfield, through to last weekend’s 3-1 home win against West Brom, my main feeling this season has been relief: relief that we were back in the Premier League and relief that there were at least three teams that seemed far less likely to stay up. Throughout the season I would look at the midweek fixtures, note that there was yet another full round of Championship games, and feel relieved that Leeds had a whole week to prepare for their next match. The club performed poorly in the EFL Cup and FA Cup this season (exiting at the first opportunity with defeats to Hull and Crawley) so played only 40 games in total, compared to over 50 in the 2018/19 season.
As you might expect, I have been reflecting on all the things that went right this season, but I have also been thinking about all the things that went wrong last season and how, in the end, they didn’t matter. I spent more than half of last season preparing my excuses in case the club failed to win promotion, and all the points dropped unexpectedly, and all the dodgy refereeing decisions, still play on my mind. Here, with the aim of clearing them from my mind, is a list:
- 10-Aug-2019 First home game, against Nottingham Forest, 1-0 up and creating multiple chances, Forest equalize in the 77th minute; 2 points dropped
- 31-Aug-2019, Home to Swansea, “Marcelo Bielsa’s side dominated but their finishing let them down,” to quote the BBC website, 90th minute goal conceded, a 1-0 defeat, at least 1 point dropped.
- 21-Sep-2019 Home to Derby County on my birthday, 1-0 up, multiple chances to increase the lead, including a penalty taken by Klich, all missed; 91sth minute goal conceded, another 1-1 draw; 2 points dropped.
- 5-Oct-2019 Away at Millwall, a penalty awarded against Gaetano Berardi, who is also sent off; Leeds play most of the game with 10 men; the red card is later rescinded, because it wasn’t a penalty, but that’s no consolation: Millwall scored and went on to win 2-1; at least 1 point dropped.
- 14-Dec-2019: Home to Cardiff, 3-0 up after 60 minutes and cruising, somehow manage to concede 3, the last of them after Cardiff have a man sent off; final score 3-3; 2 points dropped.
- 21-Dec-2019 Away at Fulham, a very dodgy penalty decision after 7 minutes to give them the lead, final result a 2-1 defeat; at least 1 point dropped.
- 18-Jan-2020 Away at QPR, a goal scored by Nahki Wells after he controlled the ball with both arms – more basketball than football – unseen by all the officials; no VAR in the Championship; Bamford had a penalty saved, final score 1-0; at least 1 point dropped.
I was thinking of the last of these matches during last night’s Europa League final. Villareal scored, unexpectedly, from a free-kick. The free-kick was given away by Cavani, tracking back for Manchester United. That QPR goal also came from a free-kick, given away by Pablo Hernandez tracking back, needlessly in my view. But it doesn’t matter. All those dropped points and dodgy refereeing decisions in the 2019/20 season: they don’t matter at all.