Burnley 2 Leeds United 1: A better display but another Whites loss

Matt Smith beats Burnley's Ben Mee.
Matt Smith beats Burnley's Ben Mee.
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They were calling for Massimo Cellino at Turf Moor, in the stands and in the dug-out. The Italian might have battles to fight and enemies to beat but he has pockets of supporters behind him too.

Leeds United’s manager is one of them. Or he sounded like one of them when he talked on Saturday about the Football League reaching the “right decision” over Cellino’s takeover.

Something has to give, not just in relation to United’s season but at Elland Road in general. Leeds have spent more than 10 years not quite getting a grip of themselves.

A banner in the away end during their loss to Burnley recounted that timeline. It blamed Peter Ridsdale – chairman as far back as 2003 – for starting the “nightmare” and accused Ken Bates of prolonging it. Cellino was touted as the answer.

And if the owner of Cagliari is cleared of tax evasion in Italy tomorrow, the Football League’s verdict on his status as ‘fit and proper’ might well be given too.

He stands to inherit a dormant club, a squad who will stop at a top-half finish in the Championship this year and a manager who patently thinks that Cellino’s arrival is in his interests.

Brian McDermott did not go so far as backing him outright after a 2-1 defeat at Turf Moor but the message between the lines of his comments was abundantly clear; as it stands, the Cellino buy-out has his support.

“As far as I’m concerned, the next week will be an important one in this club’s history,” McDermott said. “Moving forward, we need the right decision as far as the ownership is concerned.”

Championship clubs have the capacity to change quickly, as Burnley are proving.

They were the essence of relegation fodder at Elland Road last April, beaten easily in McDermott’s second game as manager of Leeds, but their win on Saturday stretched the gap between the clubs to 29 points, a gulf which says as much about United standing still as it does about the huge steps taken by Burnley.

Sean Dyche has taken the Lancashire club to the brink of automatic promotion inside one full season and 70 league games. His expenditure on transfers has been low enough to suggest that money is less of a factor than managerial aptitude and the ability of his players to exceed their presumed talent. Burnley are better than the sum of their individual parts and stand to join the Premier League in four or five games’ time.

“You have to say that Sean’s done an unbelievably good job,” McDermott said. The consolation he took from Saturday was that the contest between Leeds and Burnley showed nothing like a 29-point margin in class.

Where United were concerned, nothing was expected at Turf Moor and nothing was gained but the massacre anticipated after prior beatings by Bolton Wanderers and Reading did not occur either.

Leeds were in the game and often in control of it but there are teams in the Championship more cute and reliable when it comes to forcing the odd goal in three. Scott Arfield – a free agent with no real stock when Burnley signed him last summer – scored it with 67 minutes gone.

“I didn’t have so much quality as a player,” said Dyche, a well-travelled defender in his time. “But what I did have was a relentless attitude. A willingness to keep going. I want my team to be relentless too.”

Burnley are that. Three defeats all season and none at home; a record which Leicester City at the top of the league can’t match.

It was their persistence which wore Leeds down after Ross McCormack opened the scoring on 27 minutes, rising to nod home Matt Smith’s flick after Connor Wickham launched a throw-in deep into Burnley’s box.

McDermott found room in his line-up for all three strikers by edging Wickham out of his comfort zone and onto the left wing, a position which the 20-year-old had enough gumption to fill.

As the only shining light of United’s heavy losses to Bolton and Reading, Smith was worth a start and made a go of it, a magnet for the ball beyond the halfway line. Rodolph Austin saw more possession and, for much of the opening hour, used it well. The glaring improvement was self-explanatory.

It helped too that Burnley were bothered by the nerves of a side who suspect that promotion is coming their way but cannot quite feel it.

David Jones erred badly after nine minutes by playing McCormack in behind his defence but the striker’s deft chip over Tom Heaton struck the inside of a post and bobbled in front of the goalline.

A crunching tackle from Jason Shackell closed the door before McCormack could slip the ball into an empty net.

When the chance came again on 27 minutes, McCormack dispatched it with a clinical header and Burnley began to twitch.

They were weakened by the loss of Danny Ings, their top scorer and player-of-the-year nominee, to an ankle injury and got little from his replacement, Ashley Barnes, until an equaliser before half-time allowed Barnes to come into his own.

The ex-Brighton striker had been a target of McDermott’s in January but one who Leeds – or their owner, Gulf Finance House – refused to pay for.

“We value Ashley highly,” said Dyche.

“The group is the key thing for us here.”

United’s lead was negated in the 39th minute when Michael Duff floated a pass out to the right wing where Kieran Trippier appeared at speed.

His cross into the box was low and flat and Jason Pearce’s attempt to turn it behind diverted it through the legs of Jack Butland.

“In the first half we were the better side and we played like you have to play in this league,” McDermott said.

It was anybody’s win at half-time.

But when he pushed for it on 66 minutes by throwing on a fourth striker, Dominic Poleon, Burnley produced the decisive goal 60 seconds later.

Ben Mee nipped into space behind Sam Byram and crossed to Arfield who hit the body of Tom Lees with one shot and then beat Butland with the rebound.

Leeds deserved more than that but the last 20 minutes were lost to the fallback – high and unhandsome football.

And so continues McDermott’s attempt to create the complete package and join all the dots. For now, in his eyes, a line drawn under the takeover will do.

Burnley: Heaton, Trippier, Duff, Shackell, Mee, Arfield, Jones, Marney, Wallace (Stanislas 60), Barnes (Treacy 90), Vokes. Subs (not used): Cisak, Edgar, Long, Lafferty, Kightly.

Leeds United: Butland, Byram, Lees, Pearce, Pugh, Mowatt (Poleon 66), Austin, Murphy, Wickham, McCormack, Smith. Subs (not used): Cairns, Wootton, Warnock, Brown, Stewart, Hunt.

Vurnon Anita.

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