‘You should’ve gone Christmas shopping, gone Christmas shopping!’ they chanted at us as Burnley went 2-0 up against hapless Leeds. And well we might’ve but by the end of the match, the chant was flung the other way as Leeds completed an unlikely comeback courtesy of a winning goal from skipper Jonny Howson.
Burnley had lost at home just once this season before Leeds rolled into Turf Moor but on the back of a seven match unbeaten run, the confidence was flitting its way across another away sell out. The only murmuring of uncertainty came with the realisation that Andy O’Brien would miss out due to injury and the ever-clumsy Neill Collins would be replacing him. Elsewhere – predictably, Paul Connolly returned from suspension in the place of Andy Hughes.
Within minutes, Max Gradel had missed two chances to put Leeds ahead with bits of play which turned out to be indicative of his entire performance. There is no doubt the wee winger has pace and trickery but he is an immensely frustrating character. Everyone will remember his explosive temper which saw him sent off and dragged from the pitch in what could’ve ruined our promotion last season and it is something which is part of his personality but it only takes someone to brush past him in the wrong way for him to flip.
Anyway, his sloppiness in possession and poor final ball was indicative of his hit and miss character as poor decision making and lack of execution saw him miss easy chances and ruin Leeds’ attacks.
As Leeds struggled to find any continuity and any hold in the game, Burnley split the defence constantly with ease and when they finally did take the lead, it came from a succession of attacks with the 3rd put into the net by Brian Easton. Three times Leeds failed to clear the lines and when Easton did lash the ball home, it was just a surprise it hadn’t come sooner. The Leeds defence was in bits.
Just eight minutes later, it looked all over. A long ball from Burnley somehow saw Alex Bruce on his own against Jay Rodriguez but for Bruce, it was a challenge he was never going to win. He was simply brushed aside as Rodriguez swept Burnley into a two nil lead.
It could’ve been three or four by half time and it seemed like the unbeaten run was at an end. It was painful to watch. Luciano Becchio was struggling to make any sort of impact and the midfield were in disarray. Gradel and Rob Snodgrass’ fruitless attempts in attack saw them run into Burnley brick walls. Time and time again possession was lost and Burnley attacked, down the left, down the right; and yet Paul Connolly and George McCartney were no where to be seen. Constantly out of position and caught the wrong side of someone they weren’t supposed to be marking, they were stretched and exposed Bruce and Collins. Only some wasteful finishing, a Kasper Schmeichel save and some last ditch blocks prevented an embarrassment.
Bruce and Collins were all over the place and the fact that Bruce struggled so against Chris Iwelumo said it all – ok, Bruce is about three foot shorter, but still. It’s just as well that miss from point blank range for Scotland was actually one of his more evident skills as wasteful finishing saw Burnley fail to really put things to bed.
Half time was a blessing and Leeds trudged off, it was looking bleak.
Never though, underestimate Simon Grayson. It was said on 606 on 5live about how difficult it must be to work under Ken Bates and I doubt anyone could argue that it is, extremely. He is a not a man who gets drawn in to the inane ramblings, the hotels or the lack of serious investment in the squad. He just gets on with it. He knows the limits of the squad and of his personnel but he never gives up on them. The team unity is evident.
God knows what must’ve been said in that dressing room, or indeed what was thrown but Grayson and his players emerged with a new belief. Nil-nil, lets go.
It showed from the off, Leeds had a new energy and set about Burnley, closing down with determination and it was evident Burnley were rattled. Credit were its due, they played us off the park first half but on the same token, we made them look good.
Burnley barely got a look in as Leeds looked to turn it round, sloppy in possession and nervous at the back, Leeds finally made the breakthrough. Becchio’s header fell nicely to Gradel and on the face of his first half performance, Leeds fans were getting ready to duck. He finished with aplomb though, smashing a volley past Grant.
With the away end back in full voice, Leeds were dominating and as Connolly surged forward, his cross fell perfectly for the Argentine goal machine Becchio to net Leeds’ second. Parity.
Snodgrass had again run his socks off but had failed to find the cutting edge during a frustrating first half but as he picked up the ball on half way, there was a confidence he could make another breakthrough. His jinxing run brought him to the edge of the box where he curled a superb effort goalwards. Truly heartbreaking it was to see it come back off the bar.
Bradley Johnson managed to pull a shot wide from the edge of the box with the goal gaping as he sought to appease those who have become disillusioned with his attitude. A poor first half where he struggled to gain a foot hold and lost possession countless times had improved as he looked more robust and committed.
The game was frenetic and end to end; neither defence looked like holding out for the remainder of the match but Leeds were still on top. Then came the moment that had looked so unimaginable at half time. Howson picked up the ball, but even with options left and right of him, he went on alone and struck the winning goal. It wasn’t a ferocious shot, nor a spectacular effort and from the edge of the away stand, it looked a rather tame effort. It had enough to beat Grant though and sent the roof flying off the away end.
‘YOU should’ve gone Christmas shopping!’ we chanted back at the stunned Burnley fans.
Grayson had done it. A turnaround which scarcely looked possible on the evidence of such an inept first half display but Grayson is not a manager who easily gives up on anything. He stuck with a side he had belief in, he didn’t rush into the changes and gave the players a chance to rectify a situation which they had all been responsible for.
The game itself was not a vintage display of sumptuous football but a very real indictment of the type of match you will find most weeks in the Championship. When we were humbled by Preston, they were playing for their manager, for his job and it showed. Today showed how much the players believe in Grayson and how much he believes they are capable of.
Two points off the automatic promotion places and it’s nosebleed territory. No getting giddy though, there are so many positives but also weaknesses which will determine where we finish this season. As I said at the beginning of the season though, as long as we’re still in this league come May, I’ll be happy. I just hadn’t considered the prospect of exiting this division via the ‘up’ route…