‘STOP crying, Frank Lampard…’ goaded the locals. Come the end they were tears of joy for the Derby boss, the so-called rookie who remains on course for promotion to the Premier League in his first season in management.
Lampard could well need a new suit for their play-off final date with Aston Villa, however, given the bedraggled nature in which he emerged from the rowdy touchline celebrations in the wake of Jack Marriott’s late winner.
But the former England star had been too smart for opposite number Marcelo Bielsa during a pulsating encounter straight out of the Champions League book of drama, incident and excitement. And not to mention another comeback. We cannot keep calling them miracles, so often are they occurring, but this come-from-behind triumph was entirely in keeping with the spirit and endurance of Liverpool and Spurs one week ago.
Derby were trailing 1-0 on the night and 2-0 on aggregate approaching half-time. Lampard, having urged his boys to become men on the eve of the game, was watching his young side wilt inside a partisan – and partying – Elland Road. They teased Lampard over this season’s ‘Spygate’ affair, and the visiting boss cut a lonely figure as 36,000 revelled in his misery. And miserable was how it was looking for the visitors.
But then, Lampard made a change, and with it changed the destiny of this bad-tempered tie. On came Marriott. Within a minute he had scored with his first touch after pouncing on an error by home captain Liam Cooper.
Still, no need to panic. Derby needed two goals to win and history was on Leeds’ side, for the team finishing third in the Championship had not lost at home in the play-offs for nine years.
Except panic is exactly what they did and Bielsa’s experience counted for nothing during a calamitous second half which could yet prove the Argentine’s last at the club.
‘It is a painful situation,’ said Bielsa. ‘If the club offers me a chance to carry on, we will see.’
Within 38 seconds of the second half Mason Mount had levelled the tie as he jinked clear in the area before chopping home despite an untimely stumble.
Cooper, usually so dependable, was anything but here and the centre back conceded the penalty – needlessly tugging the shirt of Mason Bennett – from which Harry Wilson slotted Derby into a 3-2 aggregate lead on 58 minutes. Three goals in 14 minutes, even Liverpool and Spurs could not manage that.
But back Leeds came and defender Stuart Dallas – scorer of the game’s opening goal – soon restored parity when he dropped a shoulder before locating the bottom corner from 15 yards.
The noise that generated appeared to give Leeds the advantage but that edge was wiped out when defender Gaetano Berardi was sent off on 78 minutes for a reckless lunge, earning him a second booking.
Lampard urged his men forward rather than settling for extra-time and they thought they had won it when Wilson prodded against the post on 84 minutes.
The Rams boss spun on his heels and buried his heads in his hands after that missed opportunity. But within 60 seconds he was spinning back towards his dugout in glee after watching Marriott keep his cool to lift into the far corner from 10 yards.
There was still time for some late nerves when Derby defender Scott Malone was dismissed, but those were forgotten on full-time as Lampard stormed the pitch to celebrate with his comeback heroes.
By then, the first half was a distant memory. That opening period had produced six yellow cards but there was some decent football played amid the madness. Leeds right back Luke Ayling started one move from his defensive post before charging upfield and connecting with Mateusz Klich’s cross. It would have been a late contender for goal of the season had he scored. As it was, Ayling volleyed 10 feet over the crossbar. Back to right back he went.
But fellow full back Dallas made no mistake when he fired Leeds in front on 24 minutes after Kalvin Phillips’ free-kick had crashed into the post and rebounded to him six yards out.
The home fans mocked Lampard but he was laughing and not crying after seeing Marriott give them hope when he rolled into an empty net after a mix-up between Cooper and goalkeeper Kiko Casilla on 44 minutes.
It had been a crazy and chaotic first half, yet it still had nothing on events which unfolded in the second.