The 2015/16 season came to an end on Saturday afternoon, not with the win we all wanted after Chris Wood scored a PK in the 78th minute, but with a whimper, a shrug, and a few tears. In a fashion that summed up the Leeds United season quite well, a last minute mistake by the back four allowed an easy equaliser for Preston North End, and the Whites finished in an all too predictable place in the middle of the table.
There were plenty of storylines going into the lunchtime game at Preston and even more coming out of it. 5,500 away fans filled Deepdale and sang "Marching On Together" loud enough to be heard back in Yorkshire, overwhelming the Lilywhite crowd. The away fans gave tribute to both Simon Grayson and Jermaine Beckford over the course of the match, as this battle against familiar faces brought mixed emotions to many before the match.
Preston v Leeds with nothing to play for basically means Jermaine Beckford Leeds saluting ferociously for 90 minutes— Dan (@lufc_dan) May 7, 2016
But once the game began, you knew which side the away fans supported. Leeds and Preston both started off slow with the first 30 minutes showing little action. There was plenty happening in the away end however, with a fan surfing a real surfboard, and as much off-the-field fun as you'd expect in a meaningless season finale. It left the BBC Radio Leeds commentators amused at least.
Meanwhile, @NoelDavidWhelan, @APOPEY, @KatherineLeeds have to discuss the inflatables at Deepdale. Ducks, gators, stewards, it’s all there.— Through It All LIVE (@ThruItAllLIVE) May 7, 2016
On the pitch, Preston had the better chances of the first half with Joe Garner missing a golden opportunity in the 22nd minute and Beckford missing several of his own. Chris Wood tried to chip Preston keeper Chris Kirkland in the 31st minute, but his shot settled just high in the top netting. It wasn't an exciting first half, but you felt goals were there to be had, if someone could just finish (a familiar refrain from this season, no?). Lewie Coyle also put in a great performance in the first half, and it ended 0-0.
In what might've been the biggest play of the first half, however, Liam Cooper and Garner butted heads in added time. Cooper was not able to continue in the second half, leading to Scott Wootton making his first appearance in awhile for Steve Evans' squad. More on that later.
The second half had much more action than the first, with everyone getting chances on net in the first few minutes. No results came until the 77th minute however, when Preston keeper Kirkland made a horrendous decision in needlessly taking down Luke Murphy, who was chasing down a ball destined for a goal kick. Mirco Antenucci and Chris Wood got into it fighting for the right to take the PK (Mirco for his goal bonus, most likely, and Wood because he's the designated man), so that was something. Wood won out and hammered his shot into the net, giving Leeds the lead, 0-1.
GET IN @WALMOT3 #lufc pic.twitter.com/M4708Tvmf3— Will Grattan (@Will080808) May 7, 2016
With 15 minutes remaining, the finale was far from over, as Preston turned up the attack. They thought they had an equalizer when Calum Woods buried a goal off a corner in the 89th minute, but he was ruled offside (rightly), and the Preston fans were livid. They didn't have to wait long.
A long ball in added time went down the right side of the pitch, and substitute Scott Wootton, who has had nothing go right for him in the final months of the season, had plenty of space to deal with it and clear it out of play. Instead, he tried to let it go out for a goal kick, and Preston substitute Jordan Hugill ran past him and won the ball. He dribbled into the box, and after some bounces, put the equaliser into the back of the net.
All you can do is shake your head, right? The season ends in the only way it could. This summer will be… something. pic.twitter.com/dGEusl2MlW— Through It All LIVE (@ThruItAllLIVE) May 7, 2016
The game ended 1-1, and Leeds fans could only shake their head in amused disgust. The storyline of the season (on the pitch at least) has been the error-prone back four and poor finishing, and today, we saw both. A well-converted PK gave Leeds their lone goal, and Wootton's mistake (undoubtedly his last for Leeds United), cost us points.
But that's what being a Leeds United fan has been this season, so it was probably more fitting than a win on the road. It felt right... obviously not good enough... but fitting.
Evans: "I was in tears with the fans at the end. They've been incredible this season." #lufc— Leeds United (@LUFC) May 7, 2016
As for the off the pitch storylines, Leeds manager Steve Evans (who received plenty of love and support from the away end throughout the 90 minutes) was left in tears after the game as he saluted the traveling support. We'll talk more about Steve in the days ahead, but you couldn't help but feel for the man who cried as he tapped the badge, made heart signs to the crowd, and gave his salute. Cellino has apparently left him out to dry, not able to confirm or deny his status at the club for 2016/17. According to reports, Cellino doesn't care either.
Cellino told me: "We have a contract until the 30th of June to confirm Evans, so I don't need to rush."...— David Anderson (@MirrorAnderson) May 8, 2016
Kind of a laughingstock there. We'll have more on Evans this week in our end of season recap, but come on.
So the season ended at Preston on Saturday with a fight between strikers, a whimper, a shrug, and our manager in heartfelt tears. There are so many questions left to be answered this summer, so while the games might have ended for now, the drama never does at Leeds United.
Thanks for reading our previews and recaps this season here at Through It All Together; it's been a privilege covering this team for you. Stay tuned to us throughout the summer for the latest offseason news, opinions, features, and more. Make sure you're following us on social media too, so you don't miss out. #MOT