Leeds United: Breathing space puts United on front foot - Byram

IN FULL FLIGHT: Leeds United's Sam Byram. Picture by Simon Hulme.
IN FULL FLIGHT: Leeds United's Sam Byram. Picture by Simon Hulme.
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SAM Byram believes Leeds United’s priceless victory over Championship leaders Bournemouth has given the club the right to start looking up the table with Neil Redfearn’s squad emerging from a difficult Christmas.

Byram, who has consistently claimed that Leeds would not be victims of relegation this season, welcomed the sight of extra breathing space at the bottom-end of the division in the aftermath of Tuesday’s compelling win at Elland Road.

Leeds ended a streak of seven league games without a victory by beating Bournemouth for the second time in five months, seeing off Eddie Howe’s side with a spectacular goal from Luke Murphy and surviving a frantic onslaught in the last 10 minutes.

Bournemouth struck a post and missed a late penalty as United held on for a 1-0 win despite the dismissal of centre-back Giuseppe Bellusci two minutes from time.

Head coach Neil Redfearn claimed the unexpected result was the culmination of improving form from a squad who have hovered above the Championship’s relegation places since running into trouble last month.

United began the new year with back-to-back draws against Bolton Wanderers and Birmingham City and their defeat of Bournemouth increased the gap over 22nd-placed Millwall to six points. Millwall have a game in hand against Reading, a fixture which is due to be played at The Den next Tuesday.

“It’ll be good for the fans to see us crawling back up the table,” said Byram. “In terms of the players, we know we’ve got quality in the squad and I don’t think there’s ever been doubt in our minds that we’d be in a battle.

“I think we’ll be okay. I don’t think we were worried about dropping into a relegation fight but we’re not looking over our shoulders now. This is a big confidence boost. It can only help us going forward.”

The build-up to Bournemouth’s visit to Elland Road was dominated and overshadowed by news on Monday that United president Massimo Cellino has lost his appeal against a Football League order banning him from controlling Leeds until the second week of April.

Redfearn admitted that the pre-match circumstances had been “a bit difficult” but described football as “our saving grace” following a rousing victory against a Bournemouth team who remain at the top of the Championship table and have lost only twice since September.

United’s boss was rewarded for a tactical switch, dropping the 4-4-2 formation used against Birmingham last Saturday and fielding Steve Morison as a lone striker.

His decision to use Lewis Cook as a deep-lying midfielder, rather than a number 10, also paid off spectacularly as the 17-year-old turned in another encapsulating performance.

Redfearn described Bournemouth as the “best footballing side in the division” at full-time and Byram said: “You could see times in the game where we pressured them and they started giving the ball away at the back. I don’t think that’s like them.

“They like to pass teams off the pitch and we gave them a big surprise.

“They got frustrated and we saw them come in at half-time arguing with each other. We knew the game-plan was working. It shows other teams what we’re about and we’ve got something to work on now. That’s the standard set for ourselves and there’s no reason why we can’t do that week in, week out.”

Tuesday’s match was originally due to be staged this weekend but the game was rearranged at short notice due to Bournemouth’s involvement in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

With no game scheduled for Saturday, Leeds do not play again until January 31 when they travel to Huddersfield Town for an important West Yorkshire derby.

Huddersfield, like Leeds, are one of several sides close enough to the bottom three to feel under threat.

“It would be good to have a game on Saturday and carry on the run but equally I think it’s just as important that we give our legs a good rest,” Byram said. “We’ll look to our next game now and it’s definitely winnable.

“It’s a big derby but if we put in the same effort and performance we did against Bournemouth, we won’t be far off.”

United lost Morison – a player who, like Murphy, is experiencing a renaissance at Leeds after a hard and unrewarding spell with the club – to a hip injury during the second half of Tuesday’s win.

Morison was taken straight down the tunnel by a member of United’s medical staff after leaving the field on 67 minutes. Redfearn, however, expects the forward to recover in time for United’s visit to Huddersfield.

“He just had a slight strain in his hip,” Redfearn said. “We got an extra 20 minutes out of him which we might not have got otherwise and I kept him on because he was important to us.

“It hasn’t done any further damage. He could do with a rest but it’s a minor problem rather than anything serious.”

Bellusci, however, will miss both the visit to the John Smith’s Stadium and United’s game at home to Brentford on February 7 after his dismissal against Bournemouth.

The Italian conceded the late penalty with a sliding foul on Callum Wilson, a tackle which clearly took place outside the box but halted Wilson’s run as he broke clean through.

The Football Association confirmed yesterday that Bellusci would receive a two-match ban following his red card for a similar offence at Watford in August.

Bellusci remains at risk of a far longer suspension with his FA misconduct charge still pending.

The ex-Catania defender is accused of racially abusing Norwich City’s Cameron Jerome during a game at Carrow Road in October and faces a minimum five-game ban if the FA finds him guilty of that offence.

The YEP understands that his hearing could take place in the first week of February but a spokesman for the FA said a date was still to be finalised.