For a split second Uwe Rosler thought he had it and his explosive reaction in the dug-out betrayed his unflappable reputation.
“I thought we’d won the game by scoring at that time,” he admitted, reflecting on the goal which almost broke Burnley. “But never mind. Next time.”
Rosler was not alone and Elland Road celebrated Mirco Antenucci’s strike in the way that crowds greet coup de graces.
Scored on 83 minutes and with a touch of genius, it gave Leeds United that moment of fulfilment on the opening day of the season. Only Burnley anticipated the quick reply which followed.
Three minutes later, Sam Vokes nodded a Tendayi Darikwa cross into the far corner of Marco Silvestri’s net and a compelling match drew level again. Rosler’s celebration felt premature but his appreciation of his team’s contribution was not diminished.
“I’m very happy with how we handled the day, with how we presented ourselves,” United’s head coach said. “I think it’s two points dropped but I’m not disappointed at all.”
When it boiled down, Saturday in Rosler’s mind was about drawing comparisons. Three months on from his appointment as head coach and at the end of his first pre-season, Burnley’s visit gave him an opportunity to see what his squad could cope with.
The German called Sean Dyche’s side “real title contenders” ahead of the game and if the clubs’ meeting was a fair gauge of potential, they will not finish this season so far apart.
“There were two top teams, two fit teams and two very organised teams,” Rosler said. “With the amount of chances and calibre of chances we created, we should have won the game. Going 1-0 up with five minutes to go, it’s a little bit of a pity.
“But we’re a very young, emerging group of players who are learning the game. As I coach, I can’t be disappointed.”
Dyche and Rosler were as complementary as each other and Burnley’s manager saved his only criticism for referee Kevin Friend, cited for refusing to award two penalties in the first half.
“All points look like good points when you’re 1-0 down with a few minutes to go,” Dyche said, “but it was probably the right result. There were two moments of quality in a game which was patchy with lots of energy and desire. Two moments of real class.”
Rosler’s satisfaction was understandable. With a raw line-up and a crowd of almost 28,000 in the foreground, Saturday’s result was produced in the style which he intended.
There was no need for any abandonment of tactics – though Antenucci’s introduction from the bench forced the issue – and the methods of pre-season fell into place nicely. It could not even be said that Leeds had the benefit of a Burnley side low on morale after relegation from the Premier League in May.
“Sometimes when you come down into the Championship, it takes a team time to adjust,” Rosler said.
“Burnley were right on it. They asked big questions of us but we answered them.”
For much of the first half, United asked more of Burnley. Debutant Stuart Dallas, who gave Elland Road the treat of watching a winger on the wing, threatened the opening goal after six minutes but saw Tom Heaton, the Burnley goalkeeper, palm his volley onto the crossbar. Between Dallas and Sam Byram, Leeds pressed in the areas where Rosler wanted to attack, failing only to give Chris Wood a proper sniff of goal. At the other end of the pitch, Charlie Taylor got away with a tug on Lukas Jutkiewicz inside United’s box and Giuseppe Bellusci went unpunished when the ball hit his arm. Dyche and the fourth official became closely acquainted.
“Welcome to the Championship,” Dyche joked afterwards. “That happens but I’m surprised we didn’t get a penalty today. If that (Taylor’s pull on Jutkiewicz) is in the middle of the pitch, you know it’s given as a foul.”
Burnley came into their own in the spell before half-time and Michael Kightly dragged a shot inches wide of Silvestri’s far post after George Boyd jinked through United’s defence. Silvestri parried another effort from Jutkiewicz and was able to claw Jelle Vossen’s shot wide after punching David Jones’ corner down into his own area.
In the second half, further openings came Leeds’ way. Alex Mowatt missed by a fraction a chance which his left foot normally dispatches at will and Wood lashed a volley over the crossbar after anticipating Byram’s flicked header outside the box on 67 minutes. Rosler waited no time before sending on Antenucci from the bench.
The Italian’s minutes were limited in pre-season and he went under the radar as Leeds chopped and changed their squad in preparation for Saturday but the goal he produced was worthy of his scrapbook. “He looked razor sharp in training,” Rosler said. “The plan was always to bring him on late on.”
Seven minutes from time, the substitution paid off. Antenucci collected a headed pass on the corner of Burnley’s box, cut onto his left-foot and floated a sublime, curling shot beyond Heaton’s right hand. The forward ran to the crowd as United’s bench emptied and Rosler bounced around, punching the air.
Within moments, however, Boyd ran Charlie Taylor towards the byline and gave Darikwa the time to aim for Vokes on the six-yard line. Bellusci stood flat-footed as Vokes stepped away from him and the forward’s headed finish was deadly.
“The mentality of this Burnley team is very impressive,” Rosler said. “Sean Dyche has put a great mentality in that group of players. I always had the feeling that they could come back.”
His comments were reciprocated by Vokes, the ex-Leeds loanee who won few admirers at Elland Road but has a habit of playing well against the club.
“I thought (Leeds) were brilliant today,” he said. “They put us under a lot of pressure and it was a class goal they scored.
“From our point of view, against a tough side like that, it was good to come back and get a point.” It was that type of verdict which Rosler wanted to hear.
Leeds United: Silvestri; Berardi, Bamba, Bellusci, Taylor; Adeyemi, Cook (Wootton 89), Mowatt (Doukara 89); Byram, Wood, Dallas (Antenucci 70). Subs not used: Turnbull, Cooper, Phillips, Erwin.
Burnley: Heaton; Darikwa, Duff, Keane, Mee; Boyd, Jones, Arfield, Kightly (Taylor 89); Jutkiewicz (Vokes 70), Vossen (Sordell 70). Subs not used: Gilks, Ward, Dummigan, Anderson.