Leeds letting Villa score: moral victory or moment of madness?

Dominic Lee and Adam Williams debate the rights and wrongs of Leeds United's controversial goal against Aston Villa.

Dominic Lee
13th May 2019
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Leeds United and Aston Villa certainly served up a healthy dose of controversy in their recent 1-1 draw, a result that handed automatic promotion to Sheffield United and resigned Leeds to the playoffs. Earlier in the game, Villa had sportingly put the ball out of play to allow an injured Leeds player to receive treatment, but Leeds failed to reciprocate. Villa's Kodija went down injured later in the tie but Leeds continued to play, storming forward and scoring through Klich. There was a furious coming-together of the two sides, with Villa remonstrating at what they perceived to be a lack of sportsmanship, but Marcelo Bielsa responded by instructing his side to allow Adomah to walk through on goal and equalise unchallenged. This controversial moment has elicited a number of different responses, and our writers debate whether Leeds should have put the ball out or played on. 

Put the ball out: Dominic Lee

Some nicknames in sport are undeserved. However, in a 1-1 draw against Aston Villa, Leeds United definitely lived up to their “Dirty Leeds” nickname.

Villa player Jonathan Kodjia was injured in a tackle and usually in situations such as these the ball is booted out of play. However, Leeds took advantage of Villa’s hesitancy and played the ball forward for Mateusz Klich who put them 1-0 up. Despite arguments that Kodjia’s injury wasn’t serious, the Villa players were understandably furious with Anwar El Ghazi being given his marching orders for an altercation with Patrick Bamford. As a result, a disgruntled Marcelo Bielsa ordered his players to allow Villa to level the scoring.

In my opinion this was morally the right thing to do, the Villa players had all stopped and were expecting Leeds to play the ball out- particularly the back 4 who stopped marking the Leeds strikers. It was also a meaningless game, Leeds had already lost hope of automatic promotion and probably didn’t need all the controversy as this will most likely make an already bad run of form worse in the playoffs- proved by a 3-2 loss to Ipswich on the last day of the season. This didn’t stop Leeds centre back Pontus Jansson from trying Albert Adomah from trying to score which ignited conflict on the sidelines between Bielsa and John Terry.

Speaking to the media after the game Bielsa said “we gave them the goal back”, which won him a number of admirers for his sportsmanship. Bielsa’s praise is well deserved, as he was under no obligation to allow Villa to score but in the spirit of fair play he decided it was the right thing to do. This was a real show of sportsmanship in a game marred by controversy.

Play on: Adam Williams

Every so often, a usually fragmented hodgepodge of football fans from across the country stop their quarrelling, put aside their differences, and unite for a spectacularly random display of moral exhibitionism. Like night following day, it’s the natural order of things – the furore which ensued following the events at Elland Road on Saturday was therefore both thoroughly predictable and completely unjustified.

One could give any number of reasons for this being the case, the most obvious being that anyone who plays football to even the most basic standard is constantly told “play to the whistle”. Rightfully, no such whistle came following the most minor of comings-together between Liam Cooper and Jonathon Kodjia and consequently Leeds were in no way unwarranted in playing on.

I’ve heard some say the mere fact that the game slowed down was reason enough for United to put the ball out of play, but this too is nonsense. It was the Villa players that slowed down; Elmohamady had come miles out of his right full back position to demand of Tyler Roberts that he put the ball out of play. Roberts did not oblige, such was his right, and played the ball into the space vacated by Elmohamady, allowing Klich to cut inside and score what was a perfectly fair goal.

But perhaps the most convincing argument that Leeds were wrong to allow Villa to score from the restart is the worrying precedent it sets. The message it sends to the footballing world: if a player is on the ground, even if it’s not a head injury, the opposition is duty-bound to put the ball into touch. If this becomes the norm, players will feign injury following any mildly contentious 50/50 in order to break up opposition attacks or scupper their momentum. Ultimately, if a team or player thinks an injury is serious enough to cease play then they should put the ball out, if they don’t then they shouldn’t – but if it becomes gospel that the ball must go out in any potential injury situation then this is clearly problematic.

Had Marcelo Bielsa not already enraged this very same band of virtue-signalling football fans after the ‘Spygate’ scandal, and had Leeds not already missed out on an automatic promotion spot, I very much doubt whether we would have witnessed this same display of grudging sportsmanship. Alas, Bielsa emerges from this a more diplomatic, but slightly less principled manager.

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