THE Championship table made for satisfying viewing after Saturday evening’s 2-0 success against Aston Villa at Elland Road.
Excluding the opening day of the season in August 2013, Leeds moved fourth in the Championship for the first time in six seasons.
Not since 2010-11 have Leeds been in such dizzy heights as fourth, a position Simon Grayson’s Whites jumped to six years ago this coming weekend with a sensational 3-2 victory at even higher flyers Burnley.
United have now made their best start to a Championship season for 11 years with United fourth and with 33 points after 19 games in 2005-06.
But United’s start to the 2010-11 campaign was almost as impressive with a come-from-behind victory at Turf Moor extending Leeds’ unbeaten run to eight games, five of which had resulted in victory.
Yet there was little sign of Whites joy after 37 minutes as Brian Laws’ hosts raced into a 2-0 lead.
Buoyed by the previous weekend’s 2-1 victory against Crystal Palace at Elland Road, Grayson’s Whites lined up with a similar formation to Gary Monk’s 2016 choice with Kasper Schmeichel in goal ahead of a back four of Paul Connolly, Alex Bruce, Neil Collins and George McCartney.
Neil Kilkenny, Bradley Johnson and Jonny Howson packed the midfield with Max Gradel and Robert Snodgrass out wide and all behind Luciano Becchio upfront – with the Argentine already on 11 goals for the campaign.
Ross McCormack, signed from Cardiff that August, had yet to score for Leeds and started the game at Turf Moor on the bench.
Winger Gradel approached the clash with three goals to his name and should have had a fourth in the early stages at Burnley but instead fired two fine chances wide and then over. At the other end, Schmeichel produced a good save to keep out an Andrew Bikey header but Burnley then punished Gradel for his earlier misses when taking a 29th-minute lead. Bikey’s corner eventually found Easton who slammed home from close range and the Clarets lead was then doubled when Clarke Carlisle’s long punt caught out Alex Bruce and found Jay Rodriguez to force home a 37th-minute second.
Leeds looked destined to suffer a first defeat in eighth games but gave themselves a lifeline seven minutes after the break when Gradel atoned for his earlier misses and emphatically finished after being found unmarked from Becchio’s header.
United piled on the pressure and then levelled 14 minutes later when Connolly crossed for Becchio to score from close range.
Snodgrass then hit the crossbar before seeing a cross deflected off the line as Leeds looked to complete a dramatic comeback.
But there was no denying the Whites five minutes from time when Howson soldiered through the Burnley midfield before curling home a delicious effort from range to send the away end wild.
Leeds had risen to fourth and a 2-0 win at home to QPR the following weekend took the Whites into second. Automatic on the mind. Yet United’s chance of even finishing in the play-offs had gone five months later as five games without a win in April led to Leeds finishing seventh. Third place beckons six years on if Leeds can win at Brighton in two days’ time.
Leeds United 3 (Gradel, Becchio, Howson)
championship saturday, december 11, 2010
Burnley: Grant, Mears, Carlisle, Bikey, Easton, Elliott, Marney, Cork, Wallace (Guidetti 78), Rodriguez, Iwelumo (Thompson 72). Subs: Jensen, Duff, Alexander, Edgar, Harvey.
Leeds: Schmeichel, Connolly, Bruce, Collins, McCartney, Johnson, Kilkenny (McCormack 64), Snodgrass, Howson, Gradel, Becchio (Faye 90). Subs: Higgs, Paynter, Sam, Hughes, Somma.