TOWERING Matt Smith ended the season on a high note with the goal that finally broke Derby County’s stranglehold over Leeds United.
His superbly-taken 49th minute equaliser ended a run of 11 successive defeats against the Rams to earn the Whites a well-deserved 1-1 draw against Steve McClaren’s slick play-off outfit.
Latching on to strike partner Ross McCormack’s pass, he smartly dinked the ball over goalkeeper Lee Camp for his 12th Championship goal of the season.
It was rich reward for big Smith, vastly improved since he arrived from Oldham on a free transfer in the summer, as his aerial power caused Derby all sorts of problems.
It has been a chaotic campaign on and off the pitch for Leeds with home performances particularly poor and it seemed set to continue in that vein when shambolic defending gifted the visitors a sixth-minute lead through Simon Dawkins.
Chances mounted up at both ends, but Camp and his opposite number Jack Butland showcased their skills as play ebbed and flowed in the spring sunshine.
Derby’s coveted teenage midfielder Will Hughes was the stand-out player of the first half, but Leeds got much closer to their opponents after the interval as Rodolph Austin was moved to his more accustomed role in central midfield after being a fringe player on the right flank.
Smith’s leveller gave United impetus and if there was going to be a winner it was the home side as Derby, clearly with one eye on their Premiership prospects, took their foot off the gas.
Leeds boss Brian McDermott said: “We played some really good stuff against Derby, who are the team to beat in the play-offs."
What happens at Elland Road in the summer will be in the hands of new owner Massimo Cellino – both on the managerial and playing front. Next season could be a bit more interesting on the field than it has in a wasted 2013/14 season.