The manager of English second-division soccer team Leeds United stunned fans and players Sunday by allowing Aston Villa to net an uncontested goal after Leeds scored a controversial opener that incited a brawl in a game that cost Leeds the change of automatic promotion to the top-flight Premier League.
The match fell into chaos in the 72nd minute when Villa forward Jonathan Kodjia dropped to the turf at midfield from an injury. Rather than put the ball out of play – as is traditional when an opponent is hurt – Leeds continued to attack rather than put the ball out of play, resulting in an easy goal for midfielder Mateusz Klich.
The incensed Villa players confronted their rivals, setting off a mass brawl.
As the two teams clashed, locking heads and pulling jerseys, Leeds striker Patrick Bamford tricked the ref into thinking he had been hit in the face, flopping to the ground during a tussle with Villa’s Anwar El Ghazi. The ref pulled a red card on El Ghazi and sent the player off the pitch.
When tempers eventually subsided and Villa was ready to restart the match with a kickoff, Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa told his team to let their opponent score an equalizer in the spirit of sportsmanship. Villa marched to the open net and scored unchallenged except for a token effort from Leeds defender Pontus Jansson, bringing the match level 1-1 in the 77th minute.
The sportsmanlike decision could come back to haunt Leeds, who now sit third in the Championship standings. Only the top two teams earn promotion to the Premier League to play with the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool F.C.
The draw secured automatic promotion for Sheffield United while consigning Leeds to the four-team promotion playoff to determine who will join Sheffield United and Norwich City in the top level of English soccer.