Frank Lampard praised his Derby players after securing a place in the Championship play-off final as his side gained revenge for “Spygate” in mid-season in the best possible way.
“We weren’t crying over the spying incident, I haven’t thought about that in a long time,” the Derby manager said after beating Leeds for the first time in four attempts this season to set up a Wembley meeting with Aston Villa on 27 May.
“The players have done it with their work rate through the year but we’re not there yet,” Lampard said. “We’ll be underdogs again at Wembley, and I’m a bit worried because I watched Villa do this last night, but our players deserve a moment.”
Several of Lampard’s victorious side took the opportunity to reference the incident in January that led to Leeds being fined £200,000 after manager Marcelo Bielsa admitting spying on his opponents. The Chelsea loanees Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori posted the same message on Twitter: “I spy with my little eye, something beginning with W.”
Lampard said he had a feeling Derby might have a comeback in them, even when Leeds took the aggregate score to 2-0. “Sometimes feelings can be wrong but when we got the first goal back the belief just began to rise,” he said. “I thought we were still in the game then but I’ll admit that goal came at just the right moment. I’m really proud of my players, they badly wanted to give a good account of themselves. I think we all did.
“I know what its like as a player, but the pressure is even more intense as a manager. Getting to Wembley the way we did, coming back in that way, is right up there with anything I’ve achieved in football. We’ve had our ups and downs this season, not least conceding seven goals to Aston Villa, but this shows if you do the right things you get the breaks.”
Bielsa declined to single out Kiko Casilla for personal criticism, but admitted his goalkeeper’s mistake at the end of the first half had introduced “20 minutes of disorder” that had cost Leeds the game.
“We began to lose control in the 44th minute,” he said, after dismissing questions over his future by claiming it was not a convenient time to discuss the matter.
“Of course it was painful and disappointing to lose this tie but we have to accept there have been other games this season when we were not able to make the crucial difference. We had opportunities to finish first or second in the table. We should have one or two more goals in the first half, instead we turned round level. Both sides had the same number of chances in the second half but Derby’s ended in goals and ours did not.”