LEEDS United’s campaign ended in brave failure as they beat champions QPR for the second time this season only to miss out on the Championship play-offs by three points and one place.
The miracle they needed on the last day never really looked like materialising as the Whites went one down after just 27 seconds and rivals Nottingham Forest, who they needed to lose, were quickly in front in their game across London at Crystal Palace.
But United showed terrific spirit to the last as they equalised before half-time through Max Gradel and went on to clinch a deserved 2-1 victory when Ross McCormack’s shot deflected in off Kaspars Gorkss.
With McCormack also hitting the post with a great strike, several more chances going begging and as many as four penalty shouts falling on deaf ears they could have scored the five goals they needed against a Rangers side already in party mode after being confirmed as champions. But the news from Selhurst Park was never promising as the hosts had a player sent-off and Forest ended up winning 3-0.
It all meant Leeds finished in seventh place, just missing out on the play-offs, but manager Simon Grayson reckoned the players could their heads up.
He said: “The players can be proud of this season.
“Obviously we are disappointed not to make the play-offs. But we have beaten the champions twice this season which is a testament to my players.”
United’s final day could not have started worse as the defence stood off the home strikers and Tommy Smith’s shot was only parried by Kasper Schmeichel straight to Heidar Helguson, who could not miss from close range.
Schmeichel made a better save to keep out an Alejandro Faurlin shot before Leeds finally got into the contest and were unlucky to be denied a penalty when Gradel’s shot was blocked by Matt Connolly’s arm.
Another controversial decision by referee Mark Clattenburg saw Leeds denied again as Billy Paynter appeared to be brought down by Connolly on the edge of the box when he would have been clean through. The United striker made a lot of the challenge but appeared to be clipped and a free-kick would surely have been followed by a red card for the home defender.
Better luck came on 38 minutes when Gradel ran onto Richard Naylor’s long ball and got there just before keeper Radek Cerny to flick the ball into the net.
They could have been ahead before half-time with McCormack sending a header into the side netting and shooting over when well placed. In injury-time another huge shout for a penalty was denied after McCormack’s shot hit a stray Rangers arm in the box.
Schmeichel saved well from Smith’s header after the break, but that was just about the last real Rangers threat as Leeds appeared to want the win more and clinched it when McCormack showed good skill to get in the box then enjoyed a huge slice of luck when his shot went in off Gorkss with keeper Cerny having no chance.
Eric Lichaj and Davide Somma went close to adding to the lead and McCormack almost crowned his terrific second half display with another goal as his long range strike had the keeper beaten all ends up only to hit the woodwork.
There was one late scare as Smith found space in the box, but his shot was kept out by Schmeichel and Leeds had deserved to complete the double over the table toppers.
Leeds United 2
(Gradel 38, McCormack 68)
Saturday, May 7, 2011
QPR: Cerny, Orr, Connolly, Gorkss, Hill (Ramage), Routledge, Faurlin, Derry, Smith, Buzacky (Taarabt 55), Helguson (Shittu 72).
Leeds: Schmeichel, Connolly, Naylor (Kisnorbo 80), O’Brien, Lichaj, Gradel (Watt 85), Kilkenny, Howson, Johnson, McCormack, Paynter (Somma 66).
Referee: Mark Clattenburg.