Kemar Roofe may have gifted Leeds United a 1-0 aggregate headstart going into the second leg of their 2019 playoff semi-final at Elland Road, and Stuart Dallas may have doubled that advantage before the half-hour mark, but given the way their automatic promotion push had imploded when pressure mounted at the business end of the season, few Leeds fans were taking anything for granted on that ill-fated evening in West Yorkshire.
For the disconsolate Leeds faithful, it was a defeat made all the more bitter by the heated 'Spygate' row that saw Marcelo Bielsa make back-page headlines in January earlier that year. One of his trusted scouts had been caught with binoculars peering into Derby's Moor Farm training ground prior to Leeds' upcoming clash with the Rams. No official rules had been broken, but the consensus was that the unwritten ones had.
So, unsurprisingly, the retribution on Leeds' home soil was the source of great satisfaction for the travelling Derby contingent, and Frank Lampard's men were in no mood to hide the irony of the situation after the full-time whistle...
As it happened
Eager to put the game beyond reach and settle the nerves, Leeds were at their mesmerising best in the opening stages, combining delicate passing football with relentless energy. Indeed, it was a sumptuous move early on that led to a floated Mateusz Klich cross for Luke Ayling, who scissor-kicked over the bar.
It was a free-kick, though, that gifted Leeds their 1st. Kalvin Phillips' delivery, which went completely unchallenged by the Derby defence, sailed onto the post, and Stuart Dallas was in the right place at the right time to volley home the rebound.
The hosts were in control, aiming to build on their lead and wrap the tie up once and for all. Klich's deflected long-range effort struck the woodwork once again, though this time there was nobody to pick up the pieces.
The Rams were next to rue a missed opportunity, as Kiko Casilla, stranded on the other side of the goal, watched Mason Bennett's header loop onto the post. Elland Road breathed a collective sigh of relief, albeit short-lasting.
Jack Marriot replaced the injured Duane Holmes just before half-time, and not even Marriot himself could have foreseen for the instant impact he would have. Almost as soon as he stepped onto the pitch, Casilla and Liam Cooper - both players with serious blood on their hands after equally calamitous displays - got themselves in a tangle on the edge of the penalty area, failing to deal with a simple bouncing ball as Marriot pounced and passed home into an empty net on the stroke of half-time. Derby had themselves a lifeline.
As for Leeds, the episode seemed to be symptomatic of the nerves beggining to settle in, the fear of 'bottling' it in front of the home fans after all their hard work, all their progress.
Bielsa failed to dispel this uncertainty at half-time, as Leeds' defensive structure continued to dissolve once play resumed. Mason Mount made sure this didn't go unpunished, deceiving Casilla with a resourceful chip to restore parity (on aggregate) in the 46th minute. Then 12 minutes later, in a dramatic turn of events, Harry Wilson had the chance to nudge Derby in front from the spot.
Tom Lawrence had slipped Mason Bennett in behind the Leeds defence, who was recklessly pulled to the floor by Cooper. Wilson struck gold, sending Casilla the wrong way, and soaked up the euphoric adulation from the away fans.
Leeds weren't done yet, though. In the 62nd minute, Dallas - Leeds' star performer on the night - shimmied inside from the left-flank, turning Keogh inside out, and whipped a low, precise effort into the bottom-right corner to lift the roof off of Elland Road. The pendulum had swung once again.
With each side leaving it all on the line for the winner, the final twenty minutes was a breathtaking blur of end-to-end action. Both teams would eventually fall down to 10 men, but, crucially, it was Leeds’ Gaeatano Beradi who was dismissed first after a forceful, ill-timed lunge on Bradley Johnson in the 78th minute. Derby now had the numerical advantage, but the question was whether they could make it count.
Eight minutes later, they delivered the answer when Richard Keogh of all people found himself on the edge of the Leeds penalty area. With the composure and vision of a No.10, he played Marriot through on goal first time, who chipped past Casilla to book Derby's place in the playoff final.
Wild celebrations greeted the full time whistle, taking various forms, though the lasting image from one of the most entertaining playoff ties in recent Championship history will always be one of Scott Malone, Jayden Bogle and Fikayo Tomori with their hands cupped against their eyes, mimicking binoculars; a harrowing reminder to Leeds that it is they who had the last laugh.
The sheer dejection felt by Leeds' fans and players after this defeat had left many unsure as to whether Bielsa could reenergise the squad and mount another promotion push the following season. The response, quite frankly, has been emphatic, with the Leeds team of 2019/20 undoubtedly a better side than they were a year prior.
Before the season was brought to a halt, Leeds sat top of the Sky Bet Championship with nine games to go.
Ultimately, the victory for Derby amounted to very little, as they were defeated by Aston Villa in the playoff final.
Yet while Leeds were able to dust themselves down from their setback and learn from it, the 19/20 season has been a year of regression for the Rams, with Phillip Cocu failing to inspire the verve and exuberance that had defined Lampard's regime.
Nevertheless, this was a match for the ages, and won’t be forgotten any time soon by Derby fans.