Leeds United got what mattered most with added bonus in Burnley triumph at Elland Road

Eight points clear of the drop zone.

By Lee Sobot
Monday, 3rd January 2022, 11:45 am

That's more like it. And based on Sunday's display against Burnley it ought to be a case of the only way is up for Leeds United as 2022 swings into gear.

Matters are rarely straightforward at LS11 and United's fans were given an almighty scare in yesterday's clash against the Clarets as Maxwel Cornet's brilliant free-kick suddenly had Burnley heading for a point, moments after Leeds could and should have put themselves out of sight.

The visitors even occasionally threatened to go in front.

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CLEAR DAYLIGHT: Whites winger Dan James finally puts a dominant Leeds United out of sight with his late header in Sunday's 3-1 victory against Burnley at Elland Road. Picture by Tony Johnson.

But there can be no doubt that United were extremely worthy winners after a very pleasing display in probably the club's biggest game since promotion to the Premier League.

The table would not have made for pleasant viewing had Sean Dyche's side left Elland Road with all three points.

A draw would not have been a disaster but a fifth-bottom United side clearly needed three of them to provide a decent amount of breathing space above the Premier League drop zone.

Thanks to strikes from Jack Harrison, Stuart Dallas and Dan James, Leeds now have a decent cushion ahead of third-bottom Burnley, even if the Clarets still have two games in hand.

Winning them, however, is a different matter altogether and points in the bag are always preferred.

In any case, United are now find themselves six points ahead of fourth-bottom Watford who have just one game in hand and who are going nowhere fast having lost six games in a row.

Leeds, though, based on Sunday's display, really should be moving onwards and upwards from 16th, the extent of their progress likely to be dependent on when half a team of injured players return in tandem with the extent of possible activity in the January transfer window.

Even in spite of Sunday's huge victory against Burnley, Leeds are far from safe when it comes to the relegation picture, a comment that probably applies to at least half of the teams in the division as part of an ultra tough Premier League.

But United's performance against Burnley was not befitting of a side in the lower reaches of the division, particularly with seven or eight players being out.

Patrick Bamford revealed this week that he was close to making a return from a hamstring injury but the Whites no 9 did not make the bench against the Clarets, joining Kalvin Phillips, Liam Cooper, Rodrigo, Pascal Struijk, Jamie Shackleton and Charlie Cresswell on the sidelines. Cody Drameh also missed out.

At least three or four of that selection would start even in a full strength Leeds XI yet a Whites side whose preparation for Sunday's clash was far from ideal due to the club's recent coronavirus outbreak were still able to produce an impressive display against the Clarets and one that would have been worthy of a bigger margin than a 3-1 victory.

The contest was far from straightforward for the Whites who initially struggled to get going and continually produced unforced errors in the opening exchanges, often cheaply giving away possession.

That led to Burnley forcing a series of set pieces but Leeds held firm and the Whites ought to have had a clean sheet against the Clarets, Diego Llorente extremely unfortunate to be penalised for what just looked like a 50-50 tussle between himself and Maxwel Cornet for the free-kick that Cornet fired past Illan Meslier to draw the visitors level at 1-1.

But whilst Dyche's side had their chances, United looked worthy of being further ahead than they were at the half-time break, a combination of wasteful finishing and good goalkeeping restricting the Whites to a solitary Jack Harrison strike.

By the half-time interval, Leeds had fashioned 12 attempts at goal with four of those on target, exactly four times the amount offered by Burnley both in terms of attempts at goal and on target.

That made it all the more galling when the Clarets drew level through Cornet's brilliant free-kick which was unfortunately followed by unsavoury scenes as a plastic bottle thrown from the Kop hit Burnley's Matthew Lowton on the head.

There is no place for that but thankfully United ensured that it was their football that did the talking by responding in style to Cornet's leveller and there could and and should have been more than another two strikes to add to their tally as part of a contest in which the Whites had 22 attempts over the full game, seven of those on target.

Moments before Cornet had equalised, Leeds squandered a fine chance when Mateusz Klich played in Tyler Roberts who lost his footing.

Then, as United later looked to go back in front, Raphinha looked destined to score as a James cross found the Brazilian at the far post.

The Whites star instead sent his effort into the side netting but the tremendous strike from Dallas and the later header netted by James meant the misses opportunities did not matter, James and young teen star Joe Gelhardt once again dazzling from the bench.

What really mattered, especially given the opposition, was that Leeds took all three points.

The performance, though, was also a very big bonus, Leeds still 16th in the table but looking a lot better than that and now having 17 games left to prove it.

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Thank you Laura Collins