Leeds United’s season ended disappointingly when an injury-time goal denied them victory at Preston, but head coach Steve Evans declared himself proud of his players for the way they ended the 2015-16 campaign.
Chris Wood put the Whites ahead with a penalty only for Jordan Hugill to ensure a 1-1 draw with a goal in the first minute of added time.
Evans, who admitted to being in tears as he applauded the travelling supporters following the full-time whistle, does not yet know if he will still be in charge next season, but was happy with the way the players kept going to the end of a difficult campaign.
He said: “I’m very proud of my players. It’s a difficult place to come – they’ve got good players. You can see that from where they are in the table.
“But I felt we could win today. I felt the system was right and I felt there would be a stage where we’d need to gamble a little bit and try to win the game.
“I think we got all of that right, it was just a mistake which cost us the goal.
“But I don’t want to focus on that, I want to focus on the battle and the quality from the players.
“They’ve done us proud. If we’d have all been together from the start of the season, with a couple of additions, I think we’d be finishing the season higher.”
Leeds finished in 13th place after being denied in a lively end of season encounter at Preston.
Evans made two changes from the side that lost to Charlton with Toumani Diagouraga and Alex Mowatt returning to the midfield in place of Liam Bridcutt and Jordan Botaka.
Teenage midfielder Ronaldo Vieira was among the substitutes just two days after agreeing his first professional contract with the club and got on for the last few minutes to make his debut.
United were first to threaten as striker Wood dragging a shot wide, but the first big opportunity came at the other end when Joe Garner fired wide.
Leeds keeper Marco Silvestri made his first save when blocking Adam Reach’s low cross, but Wood then had a sniff of goal as his first time lob landed on top of the net after he had been set clear by Lewie Coyle’s pass.
Mowatt headed over from Stuart Dallas’s cross while Garner also headed over at the other end.
The game stayed level to half-time, but just before the break United suffered a blow with Liam Cooper going off after suffering a head injury and Scott Wootton came on.
Calum Woods looked dangerous for the hosts early in the second half when racing into the area only to hit shot well over.
Garner saw his shot saved by Silvestri before Leeds woke up again and Wood’s header was well saved by Chris Kirkland after he got on the end of Charlie Taylor’s cross.
Evans went more attacking with Mirco Antenucci sent on for his likely last game in a Leeds shirt, in place of Mowatt, but it was Preston doing more of the pressing with Bailey Wright and Callum Robinson hitting efforts off target.
However, United did break forward to open the scoring 12 minutes from time as Kirkland rashly tripped Luke Murphy as he chased a cross that had gone over everyone else’s head. A penalty was the result and Wood put it away for his 13th goal of the season.
It was the cue for an onslaught form Preston in the losing stages when only good defending by Sol Bamba kept out Paul Gallagher and Silvestri saved well from Woods.
But just when it looked like Leeds would hold on they conceded an equaliser as Wootton dawdled when he could have cleared a hopeful punt forward and was robbed of the ball wide out, possibly by a foul by Hugill. The Preston player’s low cross was stopped by Bamba, but fell kindly back to him and he found the net to ensure United’s season ended with a draw.
Preston North End 1
Leeds United 1 (Wood pen 78)
Saturday, May 7, 2016
Sky Bet Championship
Preston: Kirkland, Vermijl, Wright, Huntington, Woods, Browne (Robinson 70), Johnson, Gallagher, Reach, Beckford (Doyle 62), Garner (Hugill 79).
Leeds: Silvestri, Coyle, Bamba, Cooper (Wootton 45), Taylor, Diagouraga, Murphy, Cook, Mowatt (Antenucci 67), Dallas (Vieira 89), Wood.
Referee: Andy Haines.