As kick-off approached the strains of Don’t You Forget About Me by Simple Minds drifted over the sound system. Maybe it was the acoustics, but the lyrics sounded particularly plaintive.
By the final whistle no song would have been sufficiently forlorn to match the mood as wholesale boos signalled that Leeds had just experienced football’s equivalent of stepping off the edge of the world.
After winning only seven Premier League games all season and conceding 78 goals, more than anyone else, Sam Allardyce’s side had been erased from the top‑flight map.
Results elsewhere dictated that even if Leeds had won they would have ended up in the Championship but a 4-1 defeat by a Tottenham side whose underachievement is such they have failed to qualify for Europe exacerbated the anguish.
It also confirmed that Allardyce’s experiment with a back five had failed. There is a strong argument that his two managerial predecessors this season – Jesse Marsch and Javi Gracia – should have implemented a defensive quintet much earlier but when, with barely a minute gone, Son Heung-min squared for an unmarked Harry Kane to score with characteristic incision Allardyce’s system suffered a major malfunction.
Leeds fans responded by chanting the name of their much-loved former manager Marcelo Bielsa who, only three years ago, led the team back into the top tier after a 16-year absence.
If sacking Bielsa last year was the right decision, those supporters have subsequently been let down by a series of baffling boardroom manoeuvres. If replacing the Argentinian with Marsch made little sense, spending £35m on making Georginio Rutter the club’s record signing in January when the France Under-21s forward is nowhere near ready for the first team appears incomprehensible. Rutter came off the bench here but had the hamstrung Patrick Bamford been even half fit the former Hoffenheim forward would almost certainly have remained on it. Bamford with one leg in plaster might have been the better option.
When Robin Koch – converted to an anchoring midfielder by Allardyce and one of five natural centre-halves in the Leeds XI – headed Rodrigo’s highly inviting cross wide a gathering sense of foreboding intensified.
Already, the exhilarating crescendo of noise which greeted kick-off – creating such a sensory overload that an overwhelmed infant mascot was left in tears – had diminished to the point where individual voices in the crowd became audible.
With local emotions best described as raw it was at this point that the Leeds hierarchy could have done with ear plugs. There was a telling cameo when an amalgam of shock and anger passed across the face of Luke Ayling, the team’s stalwart, invariably smiling, right‑back as he retrieved the ball from spectators in the West Stand.
Well before Allardyce’s players were booed off at half-time the Leeds owner, Andrea Radrizzani, would have heard his name sung in a most unflattering manner. Radrizzani hopes that the San Francisco-based 49er Enterprises will shortly buy his majority share, enabling him to purchase Sampdoria, but that long-mooted full Elland Road takeover has been placed on hold.
Although some key investors in the 49ers Leeds project are set to step aside, a buyout may still, eventually, take place – but with the Championship club valued at about £150m rather than more than £400m.
Considerable compromise also beckons in the dugout. Any hopes the board might have harboured about hiring Graham Potter or Brendan Rodgers look remote. Indeed perhaps the real puzzle is that Tottenham are not begging Rodgers to fill their vacancy. Admittedly things went wrong for the Northern Irishman at Leicester this season but if form is temporary, class is permanent and Rodgers possesses plenty of the latter.
Unfortunately quality is not a word that applies to Pascal Struijk, at least not in the context of deployment in a left wing-back role. After being blindsided by Son in the preamble to Kane’s opener, Struijk, a centre‑half by trade, proved badly at fault before Pedro Porro struck Tottenham’s second goal at the start of the second half.
As Elland Road chorused: “You’re not fit to wear the shirt,” – a sentiment probably directed more at the midfielder Weston McKennie than Struijk – the shallowness of a committed yet limited Leeds squad was emphasised.
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Recruitment really has been very poor and, in trying to be far too clever for his own good, Victor Orta, the former director of football, has much to answer for.
At least Leeds should be able to sell Jack Harrison for a decent sum. The winger briefly lifted the mood by temporarily reducing the deficit before, two minutes later, Kane registered his 30th league goal of the season. It proved the cue for another rousing rendition of “Sack the board”.
Allardyce had said that, at 68, he was bored of a life in retirement featuring plenty of walks around his local reservoir, repeated poached eggs on toast for lunch and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the latest televised dramas.
As Lucas Moura skipped beyond a quarter of supposed markers to score Tottenham’s fourth goal, Big Sam could have been forgiven for feeling that maybe life wasn’t greener on the other side of the fence after all.
Despite Allardyce claiming he is open to potentially remaining in charge that reservoir can rarely have looked so appealing.