Report: Leeds 1 Albion 2Leonardo Ulloa’s bullet header booked Albion a place in the play-offs in a dramatic 2-1 win over Leeds United.
In an engrossing contest which saw three red cards, Gus Poyet’s side had to show plenty of grit and determination to find a way past a resolute United.
Will Buckley had put the Seagulls ahead in the first ten minutes before Rodolph Austin saw red for an elbow on Ashley Barnes.
Inigo Calderon saw red next as he fouled El Hadji-Diouf in the box, and the Sengalese striker brought parity to the game from the resulting spot-kick before he himself was dismissed for his celebration in an extraordinary couple of minutes.
Then Albion’s ever reliant Argentinean striker met Andrea Orlandi’s cross to fire the Seagulls into the play-offs late on as, for the second season running, Albion secured a dramatic late winner at Elland Road.
Poyet’s side knew a win would guarantee a top-six finish and were nearly off to a perfect start within 30 seconds as Buckley’s low cross was stabbed onto the post by the outstretching Orlandi.
However within ten minutes the Seagulls ignited their play-off dreams as Tom Lees’s weak pass back was latched onto by Buckley, who steadied himself before calmly tucking his controlled effort into the bottom corner.
It was the ideal start for Albion but a dismal one for the hosts, whose woes were increased as Austin received his marching orders with a straight red card for an elbow on Barnes.
Poyet’s side were dominant against their depleted opponents and Bruno flashed his effort from distance just past the post.
But a slight lapse in the Seagulls’ defence almost allowed United back in as Ross McCormack powered over from the edge of the area, before moments later Diouf’s low cross evaded everyone in the Albion box.
That gave the hosts renewed hope the half drew to a close and McCormack came even closer to finding an equaliser as he flicked the ball just wide from Luke Varney’s knock down.
Poyet’s men struck back with Buckley attempting to recreate his magnificent strike against Blackpool last week, but this time his effort curled wide as the Seagulls went in at the break ahead.
Albion came out the blocks in the second half in the same manner as they did for the first with Ulloa firing wide with his shot on the turn.
A swift counter attack nearly brought about a second for Albion as David Lopez slipped in Buckley but the winger’s effort dragged wide, before the Spaniard himself drew a fine save out of Paddy Kenny with an arrowed effort from the edge of the box.
But despite their numerical deficit the hosts worked tirelessly and were rewarded for their endeavour on 73 minutes as not only were the scores evened up, so were the number of players.
Substitute Calderon held back Diouf inside the box as the Senegalese striker tried to stab home from close range, and the Spaniard was deemed to have prevented a goalscoring opportunity and was dismissed.
Diouf made no mistake from 12 yards as he netted his third penalty in a row against the Seagulls but his celebrations were cut short as a third red card of the contest was brandished for an apparent gesture made towards the travelling fans during his celebration.
After the mad couple of minutes the atmosphere was stoked up as the game entered its final stages with neither side settling for a draw.
The ball just wouldn’t drop for Ulloa in the box as he tried to prod home from close range before Vicente skewed a shot over from Orlandi’s cutback.
But Poyet’s men were not to be denied and secured a play-off spot as Orlandi’s pin-point cross was powered home by the head of Ulloa in the 87th minute.
The drama was not quite over as Tomasz Kuszczak once again proved his value as he tipped over Jason Pearce’s header in injury time but it was to be Albion’s day.