London (AFP) – Leeds manager Jesse Marsch hailed his players’ “character” as they retained their place in the Premier League by the skin of their teeth rounding off their campaign with a last gasp 2-1 win over Brentford on Sunday.
Leeds had started the final day of the season in the bottom three but it was Burnley, who went down instead of them after their six season stay in the Premier League came to an end with a 2-1 home defeat by Newcastle.
Burnley had only needed to match Leeds’s result to stay up due to a far better goal difference.
The victory meant Leeds had become the first side since Wigan in 2011 to survive after starting the final day in the bottom three.
Leeds had gone into the match hardly brimming with confidence having accrued just two points from the last 15.
Their nerves and those of their travelling fans were on edge when Sergi Canos drew Brentford level — Rapinha had given the visitors the lead with a penalty — with 12 minutes remaining.
However, Canos was sent off two minutes later for a second bookable offence reducing the hosts to nine men — the injured Kristoffer Ajer had to go off 13 minutes from time when his side had already used their three substitutions.
Jack Harrison then sent the Leeds fans into raptures as he rifled home a fine effort in the fourth minute of time added on — 15 of their total haul of 38 points have come thanks to goals in the 90th minute or time added on.
Whilst the players jumped on top of Harrison Marsch fell flat on his back in delight in the technical area.
“This group has been able to dig deep in injury time and find goals and the character is clear and it’s a privilege to work with these guys,” he told Sky Sports.
– ‘Stress has been high’ –
For Marsch it has been a rollercoaster season suffering the disappointment of being sacked by Bundesliga side RB Leipzig in December.
Some questioned his being appointed at the end of February as the replacement for the popular Marcelo Bielsa — when the Argentinian refused to adapt his tactics after they conceded 20 goals in his final five matches.
Marsch arrived with Leeds sitting just two points above the relegation zone and 12 games remaining.
“There’s so much been said about Marcelo Bielsa v me and there’s been people counting us out, I get it, this is high level stuff, and fans pay attention all over the world,” said 48-year-old Marsch.
“It’s not a perfect representation of what I want this team to be but in this situation we came together well.
“I love this group, team, character, commitment and spirit.”
Marsch — whose contract runs till June 2025 — said he had felt the pressure.
“The stress has been high for three months, I’ve tried to stay calm and focus on us,” said Marsch.
“I appreciate the fans singing my name but that’s not the important thing.
“We are Leeds United and that’s what we will always be as long as I am here.”
For Harrison the unity at the club even after such a difficult campaign was reflected by those not involved on the playing staff attending the match.
“An epitome of this squad that the injured players still come and support — out injured and operations but somehow they still find a way to get to the game and support the team,” said the 25-year-old.
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