Leeds head coach Jesse Marsch praised his squad’s belief after they avoided relegation from the Premier League after a 2-1 win over Brentford.
The Yorkshire club took the lead at the Brentford Community Stadium when Raphinha lashed in a penalty after he had been fouled by David Raya, but though Sergi Canos levelled with a cushioned header, Jack Harrison’s 94th-minute drive sealed their first win in west London since 1950.
Marsch’s men had needed to better Burnley’s result at home to Newcastle to stand any chance of survival and after Callum Wilson’s double saw Newcastle to a 2-1 win at Turf Moor, their place in the top flight for next season was confirmed.
Brentford ended the game with nine men, following an injury to Kristoffer Ajer after Thomas Frank had made all three substitutions, before Canos was dismissed after two quickfire bookings.
“It was a hot day – not easy for either team,” he told Sky Sports.
“We got the lead, which was important and I thought the start was really good. When we were up two men we still didn’t want to leave it up to fate, we tried to push the winner to secure our fate. This group has been able to dig deep in injury time and find goals and the character is clear and it’s a privilege to work with these guys.
“We talked about how to play in the heat, how to manage the game, how to stay focussed for every moment. It was weird that we gave up a goal when we went up a man.
“We tried to update the players on the Burnley score but the focus on us was most important. It’s hard to concentrate and be connected for 90 minutes on days like this but this is typical of our group – they never stop believing and it’s a credit to our mentality.
“It wasn’t easy to manage and I was trying to think of ways to help the group tactically and to be fair, we have had good performances, it’s just trying to put it all together that hasn’t always looked perfect. The stress has been high for three months, I’ve tried to stay calm and focus on us and you see the quality of the mentality and character.”
Sunday’s match was only the former USA international’s 12th since he replaced Marcelo Bielsa – who endeared himself to the Elland Road faithful during a four-year spell, of which the pinnacle was reaching the Premier League after a 16-year absence.
Naturally, comparisons and criticisms have followed. Marsch, however, admits his priority is the future success of the club and not being in the spotlight himself.
He added: “There’s so much been said about Marcelo Bielsa vs me and there’s been people counting us out. I get it, this is high level stuff, and fans pay attention all over the world.
“It’s not a perfect representation of what I want this team to be, but in this situation we came together well and I still feel strongly about the group we have and the football we can play. We need to get better and add some pieces but I love this group, team, character, commitment and spirit.
“We were with our fans enough and I appreciate the fans singing my name, but that’s not the important thing. We are Leeds United and that’s what we will always be as long as I am here – I love our fans but I don’t care if they sing my name.
“It’s important we are a committed group and show us that every time on the pitch.”