Leeds United relegated from the Premier League
By Max Sterling
28th May 2023
The chants of 'Leeds are falling apart again' echoed from the Tottenham fans in their corner of Elland Road, a refrain that found an unlikely harmony with the Leeds United supporters at the opposite end of the stadium. A grim realisation had settled among the Leeds faithful; their team was crumbling, and they could no longer deny it.
In a pivotal match, one that Leeds desperately needed to win to preserve their Premier League status, they instead suffered a devastating 4-1 defeat, their resolve barely flickering.
The next time Leeds are here at Elland Road, it will be in the Championship, trading fixtures against the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, and Arsenal for battles against Plymouth Argyle and Rotherham United. The club had no one to blame but themselves for this precipitous fall.
Their current plight followed a season marked by a series of blunders both on and off the pitch. Questions lingered, demanding answers. How had Jesse Marsch remained in the managerial hot seat until February? Why had a club-record fee been squandered on Georginio Rutter during the January transfer window, only for the striker to see minimal playing time? How could a team concede nearly 80 goals in a single Premier League campaign? And how had they transitioned from Marcelo Bielsa to Sam Allardyce, via Marsch and Javi Gracia, in little over a year?
The majority of these questions pointed toward owner Andrea Radrizzani, who had unwittingly guided the club back to the division it had languished in six years prior. The supporters were clamouring for change, while 49ers Enterprises, holding a 44% stake in the club, desired a complete takeover. The future leadership of the boardroom remained uncertain, a pressing matter, as Allardyce emphasised in the aftermath of the loss. Only after resolving the ownership issue could they address the choice of a new manager and the potential makeup of the squad. Allardyce, with a lacklustre record of four games, three defeats, and 11 goals conceded, faced an uphill battle to secure his own future at the club.
In his post-match news conference, he offered an apology to the fans but also pointed fingers at his players, stressing that "unforced errors" had been the most glaring difference between Leeds and Tottenham. The match had been 90 minutes of self-inflicted wounds. Even before kickoff, Allardyce had acknowledged in his program notes that Leeds had been "punished for the errors we have made," and this fixture proved no different.
Within the opening 30 seconds, Weston McKennie's errant pass gifted the ball to Son Heung-Min, and Leeds found themselves trailing 1-0 shortly thereafter. Pedro Porro outpaced Pascal Struijk to set up a chance for Harry Kane, leaving Allardyce shaking his head helplessly on the touchline. As VAR deliberated over the goal, the home fans rallied in support of Bielsa, their beloved former manager who had been sacked in 2022. Meanwhile, tensions flared between Jack Harrison and Rodrigo.
If conceding within the first two minutes of the first half was disastrous, Leeds repeated their folly in the second. Liam Cooper was outmuscled by Kane, and Struijk's attempted clearance went awry, allowing Porro to seal their fate. Any hopes of a miraculous Leeds escape were extinguished.
Frustration had long morphed into anger among the fans, as chants of "you're not fit to wear the shirt" rained down on the players. Italian broadcasting chief Radrizzani faced vociferous calls to "sell the club and f--- off home."
News of an Everton goal at Goodison Park reached Elland Road, prompting the first trickle of Leeds fans to exit the stadium, more than half an hour before the final whistle. They missed a consolation goal by Harrison, only for Leeds to gift Kane another goal, encapsulating their calamitous performance.
Allardyce ruefully noted afterward that one might have expected his team to learn from their earlier mistakes, but that wasn't the case.
When a pitch invader eluded security staff and sprinted onto the field, the home fans serenaded him with chants of "sign him up" and "he's shown more fight than you." It was hard to argue, considering Leeds had contributed so little to their own cause.
The fourth goal, scored by Lucas Moura, provided a bright moment for the Brazilian in what was his final appearance for Spurs. Yet, it was another testament to Leeds' woeful defending.
Leeds had conceded 157 top-flight goals since the start of the previous season, more than any other team in Europe's top five leagues. It was a statistic that reeked of impending relegation.
On days like this, it might be tempting to assume that a club of Leeds' stature would swiftly return to the Premier League. However, their ardent supporters knew better than most that the journey back was far from straightforward. The last time they were relegated from the top flight in 2004, it took them 16 long years to make their return, with a detour that included three seasons in English football's third division.
Leeds had indeed fallen apart, but the pressing question remained: How quickly could they be pieced back together?