There’s not a great deal for United fans to celebrate but the granting of wishes and prayers, feverishly clung to in the painful months before Leeds claimed their fairy tale ending at the Brentford Community Stadium on the final day.
After the Whites strolled to a ninth-placed finish in their first season as a Premier League club, few of the Elland Road faithful can claim to have predicted the near-demise which characterised this season at every step – what started as only a small fear grew louder and more agonising as the term progressed and the threat of the drop continually resurfaced as frequently as it was quelled.
Now, United are back to square one, having simply ‘survived’ to fight another term in England’s top flight – but this assurance means the grimmer moments spent fighting tooth and nail to avoid relegation to the Championship can be reframed and enjoyed anew in retrospect.
Here are ten Premier League games which defined Leeds’ 21/22 season:
Embarrassment at the hands of their old rivals is the least of Leeds’ worries – the first of a number of thrashings, the Whites’ opening day struggles sets the tone for a difficult season. Cut open too easily and little sign of the attacking flourish on show when they were admirably humbled by the Premier League champions Liverpool on the opening day of the previous season.
Photo: Catherine Ivill
Leeds have to wait longer than they wanted for their first win of the season but their seventh match brings fresh hope as the Whites give a performance worthy of the tally-doubling points haul which lifts them clear of the drop, though Patrick Bamford’s absence is evident upfront, with just one goal to show for United’s dominance.
Photo: Alex Pantling
The final whistle, coming moments after Bamford retured from injury to bag a late equaliser, feels euphoric but this is a costly evening for Leeds – Bamford hurts himself in wild celebration, joining Liam Cooper and Kalvin Phillips in the treatment room queue the next morning. The last game in a purple patch featuring just one defeat in seven fixtures.
Photo: George Wood
A game which really asks questions of the Whites’ top-flight credentials as, totally overrun, Marcelo Bielsa’s side sets a club record for their heaviest Premier League defeat. Leeds’ thin squad starts to creak as Phillips’ absence leaves them dangerously exposed. United look unrecognisable from the 10-man outfit that seized an audacious win at the Etihad eight months previously.
Photo: Alex Livesey