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Leeds United 3 v 1 Burnley
Barclays Premier League
Sunday, 2nd January 2022 Kick-off 14:00
Bielsa hails a much-needed improvement in the vital win over Burnley
Monday, 3rd Jan 2022 23:08 by Tim Whelan

Leeds badly needed to bounce back from our recent troubles in this six-pointer against our relegation rivals, and we certainly managed it, producing a determined performance that was enough to see off relegation rivals Burnley, and give ourselves a bit of a breathing space above the bottom three.

Llorente was able to return for this game, but Bamford was not despite some hopeful rumours during the week, so the squad still had a rather makeshift look about it. Dam James was the only remotely experienced player on the bench as the injury crisis continues, but at least we had enough players to stage the game this time.

Burnley made a decent start, but after the first ten minutes or so we began to dominate possession with a couple of the players heavily criticised in recent weeks returning to a bit of form. Harrison and Klich looked lively, but the standout player was Firpo, who had arguably his best game since he came to the club.

I thought he had begun to adapt to our style before he got injured in the autumn and then needed a few games to get properly fit on his return, but in this game he really showed what he can offer going forward down the left. A couple of times he was close to scoring his first goal for Leeds.

The first real opportunity of the game came when Raphinha spotted Hennessey off his line and tried a chip from some way out, which unfortunately just clipped the bar. For the next chance Raphinha was the provide, sending in a cross which Firpo met with a neat flick onto the post, before Burnley scrambled the ball clear.

Burnley had three of our old boys in their ranks, which included a front pairing of Chris Wood and Aaron Lennon. For the most part our central defenders dealt with the long balls that were sent in their direction, despite Wood’s attempts to barge into them at every opportunity, but he did manage to produce their best effort of the half. He met a cross that found him in the six yard box, but Meslier was well positioned to make the block.

We should have gone in front when a neat interchange between Raphinha, Klich and Ayling anded with a dangerous cross into the six yard box, but Roberts somehow headed wide from right in front of goal. A comment on social media was that “Anne Boleyn would have scored that”, with more than a few others saying this is further evidence that for all his hard work Roberts just isn’t good enough at this level.

But the breakthrough finally did come in the 39th, minute, as Tarkowski made a hash of dealing with a simple long ball, knocking it straight at Harrison as he was charged down. Our winger’s first shot was saved, but he reacted faster than the Burnley defence when the rebound came back his way, and was able to roll it past Hennessey into the net.

There could have been a repeat on the other side when Burnley again gave the ball away, but this time it was Roberts who took possession and he could only fire his shot into the grateful arms of Hennessey. At the other end there could have been an ex-Leeds goal and assist as Taylor dispossessed Raphinha on their left and his cross found Wood, but our former striker could only send it over the bar.

At half time Burnley brought on Cornet, their Ivory Coast international and most inspirational player, who hadn’t been fit enough to start after an injury and a bout of Covid. He was to play a significant part in the visitors’ best spell of the game and have a big influence on events both on and off the pitch.

In the 54th minute Wood played the ball forward to Cornet, who went to the floor after a tangle with Llorente, with our noble Spaniard getting a yellow card despite his protests that his shirt was being pulled. This took him to five bookings and he will now miss our next League game, at West Ham.

The free kick was about 25 yards out, but Cornet managed to bend it round a rather disorganised wall and into the corner of the net, with Meslier too far across in the other corner to be able to meet it.

Cornet then went into an irritating goal celebration right in front of the a Kop who were annoyed by the award of the free kick in the first place, though unfortunately the resulting missile hit Lowton rather than it’s intended target. Lowton took it like a man and had the decency not to exaggerate his injury, unlike Brentford’s Canos in similar circumstances last month.

At that stage it seemed possible that Burnley could have gone on to shock us with an unlikely win, but they fell back into defence and allowed us to regain the initiative. Hennessey went back to the time-wasting he’d been doing while the scores were level in the first half, with the crowd counting how many seconds he took for each goal kick, and as the minutes ticked away we saw Sean Dyche checking his watch in a rather exaggerated fashion.

We then suffered yet another muscle injury, though some of our fans seem a little too pleased that it was Roberts who had to limp off, to be replaced by Gelhardt. The second change was tactical, a like to like replacement of Harrison by James, and that line-up remained for the rest of the game. With the rest of the subs being teenagers Bielsa wasn’t going to use his third change unless he was forced to.

The next chance came as we swept downfield from the edge of our own penalty area with Firpo sending James away down the left. But when the cross evaded Gelhardt and came through to an unmarked Raphinha beyond the far post, our star man put it into the side netting when he seemed certain to score.

Frustration was beginning to mount, but we finally went back in front in the 77th minute. Klich took the ball infield after a short corner routine and played it to Dallas on the edge of the box, where the Cookstown Cafu lived up to his nickname by curling a superb shot round Hennessey into the corner of the net.

Of course we still had to see the game out, and Sean Dyche made a couple of changes to try and salvage something from a game he couldn’t afford to lose. A tiring Lennon got a great round of applause from the Leeds crowd as he was replaced by Rodriguez, and a more surprising sub was Vydra coming on in place of Wood.

I was a bit anxious when an extra five minutes were announced. Were we going to be made to suffer for Burnley’s earlier time-wasting? Thankfully not, instead we sealed the win with another goal two minutes into injury time.

Klich kept possession with some neat footwork and sent Gelhardt away. He sent over a superb cross which James headed downwards, and although Hennessey made an initial save, the header had enough power for the ball to spin backwards over the line. A few minutes later the final whistle was greeted with joyous celebrations, as we began 2022 with a win that means so much more than a simple three points.

Which Marcello Bielsa acknowledged in his post-match press conference. “It was very necessary and it was a relief for us to be able to get it. We managed to get in behind, there was a lot of combination play, there was a defensive security even if it wasn't absolute. It was important and we had the ball a lot of the time. And we managed to finish our attacks in the opponent's half.”

“In general lines, we dominated the game. I don't ignore the situation that we're in and I also don't ignore what my responsibilities are. In football, every week you have to prove yourself. Even if the performance today was a step forward, you need to maintain that level of performance against any opponent and in any pitch. The game today was a game of a lot of commitment.”

For his part, Sean Dyche acknowledged that our players wanted the win more than his own team, which is surprising when if anything their need for the points was even greater than ours. I couldn’t resist a look at a Burnley fans forum, and some of them are calling for his head, saying his outdated tactics are dragging them down, but he won’t change them.

They also said that of their players only Taylor, Hennesseey and Cornet came out of this game with any credit, and most of them accept that this season they don’t look good enough to survive. In fact none of the teams below us have taken advantage of the last few weeks when we lost three games and had two others postponed, which is why this win leaves us in such a secure position.

Burnley are now eight points behind, and although they have two games in hand, the gloom and doom on their message board has convinced me they won’t pick up points from them. Norwich have gone, Watford have lost the last six, and although Newcastle have money to spend, they start the transfer window eight points behind from the same number of games.

Then there is Everton, who are dropping like a stone, and Brentford, who may yet get into trouble. We still have a lot to do in the second half of the season, but we can now start to feel confident that there are enough poor teams around to keep us away from the bottom three until the end of the season.

Reuters



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