Cold, wet and dour; the weather and the result. Leeds United have subjected Burnley to some humiliation at Turf Moor in the past two seasons but last night’s game was the epitome of a harsh winter evening on the outskirts of Lancashire.
Such is their previous experience of this home fixture than Burnley will take no end of comfort from a 1-0 win as the dust settles today.
Beaten in 2010 and 2011 in frantic fashion and against the run of play, they avenged both results as Leeds closed in on another point away from Elland Road.
The defeat inflicted by Charlie Austin’s 82-minute header came without anything like the barrage survived by United in Brighton on Friday.
Burnley will claim to have had the better of the match, and their control was undeniable for almost an hour, but their performance never crossed into Brighton’s level of painful dominance. Leeds negated their prime asset – the prolific Austin – until the crucial moment and created occasional chances, though too few to merit any more than a draw. To Austin’s late goal, there was no reply.
Leeds have experienced defeat on few occasions recently and the key statistic for manager Neil Warnock before last night was one loss in eight Championship games; or one win in six, depending on your point of view.
There is a lack of regularity about defeats like yesterday’s but a glaring shortfall of victories too.
Both were possible before Austin scored, with Burnley making nothing of their superiority in the first half and Leeds passing up chances good enough to settle the game themselves.
El-Hadji Diouf was culpable but Aidan White most guilty after failing to bury a shot from an unmarked position in Burnley’s box 18 minutes into the second half.
The gradual improvement in another flat performance from United might have merited a goal by then, but only just.
Warnock was critical of his side’s wasteful finishing, saying: “I don’t think I have been as disappointed as this all season, I don’t know how we have not won that and I am so disappointed.
“I feel like I have been mugged. You cannot miss chances like we did and I said with 20 minutes to go that they would get one chance and it is almost like it was too easy for them.”
Their visit to Burnley was the continuation of a punishing schedule which has attacked both their position in the Championship and the general fitness of Warnock’s squad.
Most of his walking wounded soldiered on at Turf Moor but he had no expectation of passing Tom Lees fit after sending the defender for scans on the eye he hurt at Brighton.
There is always one this season, or so it seems.
Pre-season absentees excepted, Warnock has not had the pleasure of picking from a full squad since the first day of the Championship season almost three months ago.
Continuity remains an issue, particularly among his defence.
Burnley have suffered their share of disruption too, albeit in a different form. The club replaced former manager Eddie Howe with Sean Dyche towards the end of last month, recruiting the coach harshly sacked by Watford in the summer.
United’s prior experience of Dyche was that of a tactician who worked them out perfectly on two occasions last season, the second time on Warnock’s watch.
Prior to his appointment, Burnley’s modus operandi was an unashamed reliance on the deadly finishing of Charlie Austin.
Before their meeting with Leeds, only three teams in 16 had found a means of keeping the striker quiet and his presence alone was sufficient trouble without the error from Paddy Kenny which almost cost United the opening goal after seven minutes.
With rain lashing down, as it did for an hour before kick-off, the goalkeeper – the star of United’s tepid show at Brighton – spilled a shot from Ross Wallace but redeemed his mistake by rising quickly to block Dean Marney’s follow-up inside his six-yard box.
It was Marney’s second effort of the game and, by that early stage, Burnley’s fourth. Most were speculative or more speculative than the chance which fell to Diouf in the 13th minute.
Leeds stretched Burnley as Rodolph Austin and Aidan White ran the ball from their own half and White’s cut-back rolled invitingly to Diouf 12 yards from goal.
With Lee Grant’s goal in front of him, Diouf’s delicate finish clipped a heel and spun a yard wide.
It would have satisfied the forward to subdue a crowd who jeered him on account of his Blackburn Rovers connections.
The football which yielded those moments of promise was tense but engaging in parts; by no stretch the Championship at its finest but a game with an element of unpredictability about it.
Burnley pressed more often and with more vigour but left Charlie Austin isolated with loose final passes.
He made hard work of touching the ball more than half-a-dozen times in the first half and struggled to force anything more than an unconvincing penalty appeal against Lee Peltier.
The crowd blamed referee Geoff Eltringham for some of Burnley’s toil, berating him for giving Michael Brown the benefit of the doubt surrounding a foul on the midfielder with Leeds under pressure on the edge of their own box.
He drew their wrath again when two apparent handballs helped Diouf break clear on the half-hour.
The dipping shot which carried narrowly over Grant’s net would have started a riot had it sneaked under his crossbar.
It was still a rare occasion when Turf Moor grew animated. Kenny kept out Kieran Trippier’s 42nd-minute strike with his fingertips and was beaten seconds later by Charlie Austin’s shot on the turn – an effort which deflected behind – but half-time arrived to the sound of muffled applause; a game there to be won and lost but largely dormant.
The interval did its bit for Leeds, disrupting Burnley’s flow and breaking their sense of control. Kenny saved a volley from Chris McCann but Dyche’s defence looked increasingly stretched and short of numbers whenever United found time to break.
White’s weak shot at Grant after Diouf’s pass left him one-on-one with the keeper in the 63rd minute was a sorry waste.
The same was true of Charlie Austin’s stabbed shot straight at Kenny on one of the few occasions when Leeds watched the ball and lost track of him.
There were 15 minutes remaining at that stage and not a goal in sight, but Austin supplied the winner out of the blue when he met Trippier’s delightful cross with a deadly header and his 20th of the season.
It is what the striker does, as Leeds knew fine well.