Resilient Rams reach Wembley

Derby County will play Aston Villa in the Championship play-off final on 27th May after beating Leeds United on an action-packed night at Elland Road.

Frank Lampard's side produced an exhilarating display in the second leg after losing the first match at home 1-0 and eventually won through 4-3 on aggregate.

It was certainly not plain-sailing for the Rams though as they fell a goal behind on the night and 2-0 down on aggregate on the before being handed a lifeline when Jack Marriott was introduced as a substitute just before half time.

He scored 33 seconds after coming on to the pitch and Derby netted twice more in the opening stages of the second half through Mason Mount and Harry Wilson's penalty to lead 3-2 on aggregate.

Leeds responded through Stuart Dallas' second goal of the second leg only for Marriott's late winner to confirm Derby's place at Wembley.

Lampard said: "Jack's been really good for us this season. I just felt in the last couple of months, in terms of what I really want from Jack, what can make him the player he was here, is the absolute ethic to do everything as an all-round striker.

"He's not the tallest. He's strong in terms of stockiness, but he needs to work without the ball, to have a hunger and desire constantly.

"It means such a great deal. To get into the play-offs after such a great run and to go 1-0 down and do something that no team has ever done in the play-offs after losing the first leg at home. In terms of personal achievement, the feeling is as much as I've had in football.

"It's not the personal achievement of being able to win stuff at Chelsea, but in terms of how I feel right now, it's up there."

Derby can be backed at 13/10 to be promoted to the Premier League this season while Villa are available at 8/13.

Grealish hopes to make amends

Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish says his side have to make the most of their return to Wembley for a second successive Championship play-off final.

Villa edged through 4-3 on penalties against neighbours West Brom after their semi-final tie had ended locked at 2-2 on aggregate, with the Baggies winning the second leg 1-0 at The Hawthorns after losing out 2-1 in the first leg at Villa Park.

That gives Grealish and his colleagues an opportunity to make amends for a 1-0 Wembley defeat at the hands of Fulham just under 12 months ago.

Grealish told the club's official website: "It's massive to get there again. I was part of it last time, we know how it feels to lose. I have the experience of it.

"It's no good going on a good run and then going to Wembley and falling at the final hurdle again. I truly believe we can get promoted."

Meanwhile, Villans boss Dean Smith admitted to be being disappointed that, although a Wembley return had been secured, his side had lost for only the second time in their last 15 games.

He added: "We deserved it, but the disappointing for me was not winning. I couldn't believe we lost the game, that's our (second) defeat since losing at Brentford in February."

Villa will play the winner of the tie between Leeds United and Derby County, with the former holding a 1-0 lead heading into their home second leg at Elland Road.

The Villans are 5/6 to be promoted to the Premier League, with Leeds available at 5/4 and Derby 12/1.

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Bielsa won’t get carried away

Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa thought his side thoroughly deserved to win the first leg of their Championship play-off semi-final at Derby County 1-0.

Kemar Roofe's 55th-minute goal proved to be decisive although there was some controversy later in the game when the Rams were awarded a penalty at Pride Park only for referee Craig Pawson to change his decision following discussions with his assistant, Eddie Smart.

Derby boss Frank Lampard could not understand why the referee had changed his mind, although he conceded that his players needed to be better on the ball and more confident in Wednesday's second leg, which County are 25/1 to win 2-0.

Meanwhile, a cheerful Bielsa said: "We always play to win and I think it was a deserved win. I am really pleased with the performance.

"Apart from the first minutes of the first half and then 10 or 15 minutes in the second half, when we dominated the ball, we defended well when we had to defend well and we attacked well when we had to attack.

"However, the Champions League games this week are a warning of what could happen. A 1-0 lead is not enough to be comfortable going into the second leg.

"It is an advantage, but we still have 90 minutes to play."

Lampard ready for Leeds test

Derby County boss Frank Lampard says he and his side are ready for a real test as they prepare to face a Leeds United side who have already beaten them twice this season.

The two sides are preparing for the Championship play-off first leg on Saturday at Pride Park, after Leeds finished in third and Derby sixth at the end of the regular season.

Marcelo Bielsa's side have beaten the Rams home and away this term but Leeds have had a disappointing run going into the play-offs, after squandering the chance to go up automatically.

Lampard is still wary of what Leeds are capable of and knows his side will have to be at their best to get a result at Pride Park on Saturday.

"What matters is how we prepare," he said. "Our run-in has pushed us into sixth place, but we mustn't forget they have beaten us twice and finished above us in the league.

"They are a strong team and at one point looked certainties to be promoted, but the competition is great and they have dropped out of that. We have to worry about what is in front of us."

Derby are 12/5 to win, 11/5 to draw and 7/5 to lose against Leeds.

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Bielsa: We are full of hope

Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa hopes his experience of high-profile matches will prove crucial as he gears his side up for the Championship play-offs.

Leeds face Derby County in the first leg of their semi-final on Saturday after finishing third in the regular season.

Bielsa's team appeared to be on course to clinch an automatic promotion place for much of the season but a poor run in the last few weeks of the campaign allowed Sheffield United to finish second behind champions Norwich City.

Leeds have already beaten the Rams twice in the regular season, recording 4-1 and 2-0 victories, and Bielsa is confident his side can come out on top against Frank Lampard's team and reach Wembley.

He said: "This event is a football episode which everyone will want to live. The team that wins at Wembley will go up and get promoted and you can't have a bigger goal than this.

"I am familiar with this situation. What I can tell you is that I have been through this many times with Copa Libertadores, the Olympic Games, with Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League and the Copa America.

"We think about the responsibility we have on our shoulders because we are bearing the hope of many people. It is a big opportunity for us to fulfil this hope, for all of the fans. We are full of hope."

Leeds are 11/8 to win Saturday's first leg and 15/8 to be promoted to the Premier League this season.

Shan tells Albion to buck up

West Brom caretaker boss Jimmy Shan has warned his players to buck their ideas up for their Championship play-off semi-final against neighbours Aston Villa.

Shan was speaking after seeing the Baggies round off their regular season campaign with a 3-1 defeat at Derby County, who claimed the fourth and final play-off place for themselves in the process.

The Rams move on to face Leeds United, while Shan is seeking to reignite the spark in time for the showdown with the Villans.

He told the Express & Star: "We need to make sure we prepare in training and perform a hell of a lot better than that to have some success against Villa.

"I spoke to the players and there was some honest assessments. Maybe, having cemented our place for so long and having the play-offs round the corner, sometimes that can act as a bit of a distraction.

"That distraction has gone now, there's no excuse and we know exactly who we're up against."

Albion claimed a 2-0 win at Villa Park in mid-February, when Hal Robson-Kanu and Jay Rodriguez were their goalscorers, while the meeting of the two sides at The Hawthorns ended in a 2-2 draw in early December.

The Baggies are 5/2 to gain a draw in the first leg of the play-off semi-final at Villa Park on Saturday, with the visitors 10/3 to keep a clean sheet.

Meanwhile, West Brom are 21/20 to reach the play-off final, with Villa available at 7/10.

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Lampard says Rams underdogs

Frank Lampard said his Derby County side would be underdogs when they take on Leeds United in the Championship play-off semi-final.

In his first season in management Lampard has guided the Rams to a final place of sixth in the Championship, a position they confirmed with victory over West Brom in the last day of the Championship regular season.

It means a home leg against Leeds United next Saturday followed by the return game at Elland Road on the 15th May.
 
It will be Derby's fourth play-off opportunity in the last six years, the other three ending in disappointment and Lampard said his side would be underdogs this time against a Leeds side who finished third, nine points ahead of the Rams.

Lampard said afterwards: "We're underdogs. I don't want to think about anything past Leeds. They're a fantastic team.

"They will be two massive games for us. We've got our work cut out."

The former England international said it was a great achievement to secure a play-off alongside Leeds, Aston Villa and West Brom.

West Brom were already sure of a place in the top-six ahead of their trip to Derby but the home side needed a victory to be certain and they took the lead through Martyn Waghorn after 20 minutes.

The Baggies equalised early in the second half, Stefan Johansen getting their goal but Derby went back in front through Mason Bennett and three minutes later sealed victory with a contentious penalty converted by Harry Wilson.

West Brom, who finished fourth and play local rivals Aston Villa in the semi-finals, were dealt a blow with Hal Robson-Kanu sent off meaning his participation in the semi-finals is in doubt.

Derby are 6/4 to win their home leg next weekend with Leeds 17/10 and the draw is priced at 12/5.

Leeds are 15/8 to get promotion via the play-offs while Derby can be backed at 9/2.

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Wilder still eyeing title victory

Sheffield United have been promoted to the Premier League and boss Chris Wilder has challenged his side to try and go up as Championship winners.

The Blades' return to the top-flight for the first time since the 2006-07 season was confirmed by the 1-1 draw between Leeds United and Aston Villa at Elland Road on Sunday.

However, Wilder appears unlikely to allow his players to slack off just yet, with United trailing Championship leaders Norwich City by three points with just one game left to play.

The Blades, though, have a better goal difference than the Canaries, meaning victory at Stoke City and a Norwich loss at Villa would see the Bramall Lane outfit go up as champions.

Wilder told reporters after the 2-0 win over Ipswich Town on Saturday: "We still have a game to play and we're going to try and win the Championship. That's how our mindset is. Who says we can't?

"Fourteen points over seven games at the back end of the season, with one defeat in 13 at the business end of the season, and people still question whether we are going to fall away.

"We've just kept our heads down and answered it in the right way, which is on the green bit."

The Blades have lost just one of their last 17 league games and they are 1/1 to win at Stoke next Sunday, with the draw priced at 12/5.

Meanwhile, Wilder's side are 7/2 to be crowned Championship champions next weekend.

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Bielsa fears Leeds failure

Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa says it would be a failed season if they are not promoted from the Championship this term.

The Whites have slipped out of the automatic promotion places following a surprise 2-1 home loss to struggling Wigan Athletic on Friday.

The Elland Road outfit are now 4/6 to be promoted this season having been leapfrogged by Sheffield united, who beat Nottingham Forest 2-0 to move ahead of Leeds on goal difference.

Norwich City remain top of the table, five points clear of the Yorkshire duo, after being held to a 2-2 draw by Sheffield Wednesday.

With three games left to play in the Championship, the Canaries look well set to claim one of the automatic promotion spots, meaning it is a straight fight between Leeds and Sheffield United for the other.

With the Whites on the verge of a return to the Premier League following a 15-year absence, Bielsa is desperate to see his team get across the line.

However, he admits the loss to Wigan, who played the majority of game down to 10 men, could prove a damaging result in the long run.

The Argentine coach has taken the blame for Friday's loss but says he's motivated to inspire his players to get back to winning ways at Brentford on Monday.

“This is a very serious result in the worst moment,” Bielsa said.

“The only relief we can get is to get promoted. What we've done so far is not enough. It's clear that it’s not enough. We need to have more strength. It’s a moment of weakness that was not expected.

“If we don’t get promoted, if we can’t get promoted, it won’t be a season to be remembered. That’s not because we have the obligation to get promotion but it’s because we arrived at this moment with all the conditions to get promoted.

“Everything was in our favour. Destiny gave us a hand – a red card for the opponent, a penalty we missed, 15 chances to score. There’s no doubt that I bear the responsibility for this moment. I’m very sad but I’m very motivated.”

Leeds are 19/20 to win at Brentford on Monday with the Bees 13/5 and the draw 13/5.

Bielsa: We need to stay calm

Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa accepts that it is difficult to stay calm as the Championship campaign reaches a climax.

Leeds face Wigan Athletic on Friday and can be backed at 4/11 to beat the Latics, who are 6/1 to be relegated this season.

Sheffield United's recent wobbles have allowed Leeds to move closer to automatic promotion and Bielsa is keen to finish the job off.

"It is true that it is difficult to stay calm," said the 63-year-old former Chile and Argentina manager. "When the atmosphere close to you is excited it is more difficult to be calm inside yourself.

"You need to have a link with the amateur spirit, because then you have a link with the fans and at the same time there are no footballers who are not fans or don't have this feeling. Professionals need to have balance and calm.

"Our objective is to be focused for the three points that we play for in each game. After every game we have to adapt to the new reality that is the table."

Leeds are 1/5 to be promoted this season while Sheffield United can be backed at 4/5 to go up.