One of the Great Days – Burnley (A)

Wow it’s been a month since my last post. A heck of a lot has happened in that time. Since beating Bristol City we have earned two hard fought points at Norwich and Reading and picked up a come from behind victory against Palace. Unfortunately I have been to just one of those games, the draw at Reading, and finding 250 words to write for Leeds Leeds Leeds magazine was hard enough, so didn’t feel a blog would add much more. (The journey to the game and the Top Gear challenge we undertook was much more exciting and was well documented on my Twitter feed that day.)

Burnley was never a fixture that jumped out for me in the fixture list. I had been twice before, and would gladly have missed this one for bigger games to come. However, my ten year old son has a Burnley fan in his class, so he really wanted to go. I therefore thought, why not, and booked a trip on the Bates bus for his first real away experience (He has been to York pre-season and Hartlepool in thier end last year).

He certainly wasn’t impressed with the ramshackle nature of the ground. The away end is a shithole at Turf Moor and he certainly enjoyed the hi-tech screens showing Sky Sports News before the game (Two 20 year old TV’s plonked on top of a wall). Wooden seats were also a bit of an eye opener for him, although we actually were in the small section of plastic seats behind the goal.

He was also worried when he found out Andy O’Brien was missing through injury. Neil Collins stepped in, and looked like he wanted to put in a performance which would see him keep the shirt. He made a storming start, which included a dust up with Alex Bruce. Unfortunately for Leeds, he was almost the only player who showed any passion in as spineless a first half performance as I have seen. Leeds were second best in any physical challenge. If ever a player has been misnomered it is Neil “Killa” Kilkenny. I am a big admirer of his, but to see him so obviously shirk any physical challenge is a little bit embarrassing. Bradley Johnson obviously saw his lack of physical commitment, and in his quest for “equality” decided he would put in as little as he possibly could. Only Jonny Howson showed any spine in the middle of the park and Leeds were overrun as a cosequence.

It wasn’t all bad though in the first half. Leeds actually started quite brightly and Max Gradel had a real chance early on, shooting well wide. He had an even better opportunity to create a chance on 17 minutes. He beat the offside flag down the left, but with men unmarked and free in the middle, his cross was supremely disappointing, floating on to the roof of the net.

Burnley created nothing until their first goal, which came from a corner following a smart Kasper Schmeicel save. The corner was headed goalwards, and despite an initial block was swept in by Brian Easton. The goal sparked the first stirrings of the Burnley crowd “pumped” by the awful sound of celebratory goal music. The home fans were incredibly quiet throughout, the only “noise” coming from a small pocket of meatheads and chavs in a section down by the corner flag. Thier leader was some fool dressed as Santa, who would surely have been nicked for his pathetic attempts at intimidation were he not so ridiculously dressed.

Leeds fell two behind on 37 minutes when Clarke Carlisle hoofed the ball forward and Alex Bruce’s lack of pace was alarmingly exposed. Chasing back to goal with Jay Rodriguez in pursuit, he literally crumbled under the pressure, and allowed the Burnley forward (with what looked like the use of a hand) to rob him and tuck under the onrushing Schmeicel. With Leeds looking incapable of winning a tackle the chances of turning the game around seemed slim.

The half-time whistle sounded,and as Leeds trooped off down the tunnel at our end, the backroom staff followed them off. As he headed down the tunnel, Simon Grayson started to take off his coat. You could see he was steaming and that he was about to produce the mother of all bollockings to the team.

If he did then it didn’t seem apparent immediately. Leeds didn’t tear into Burnley from the off, but instead seemed to be going for the Chinese water torture method. The drip drip increase in tempo saw Burnley start to be pinned down in their own half. Leeds decided to actually try to win the ball (Kilkenny apart) and it was persistence that brought about the first Leeds goal. The increasingly impressive Paul Connolly would not give up on a ball on the right touchline and won it to feed Robert Snodgrass. His deep cross found Becchio on the back post who intelligently cushioned a header to Gradel 12 yards out who smashed the ball home.

Leeds and the crowd could smell blood, and pressed on ever more. Chris Iwelumo should though have made it 3-1 with a header, but he put it wide. From that moment on, Leeds dominated the game. Kilkenny was finally removed for Ross McCormack as United went 4-4-2. Mccormack was busy and had an immediate chance, shooting straight at the keeper. The attacks were coming in waves now, and Burnley just could not cope.

The equalizer was a thing of beauty, one of those goals that might not make a highlight reel, but are just a result of great football.Connolly made an inspired run from half way, and looked knackered as he laid it off to Snoddy. I was as surprised as the Burnley defence that he continued his run to get it back and whipped a beautiful low cross along the six yard line for Becchio to slide in and touch the ball in.

With 25 minutes still to go, Leeds knew that they could win the game, but despite keeping our foot on Burnley’s throat could not administer the final thrust. A ping-pong affair in the 6 yard box was followed by a typical Snoddy run and curler, which clipped the top of the bar.

When the winner did come it was another stunning effort. Jonny Howson is turning into a real Captain Fantastic, and if Steven Gerrard had scored this goal, we would be seeing it for weeks. Picking up the ball inside his own half, Howson strode forward. with options either side the Burnley defence were really struggling, but the bloke behind me knew what was going to happen. “Go yourself” he shouted just before Howson cut inside one man, and then “Hit it” as Howson drove an effort from 20 yards past the outstretched dive of Lee Grant. Howson’s double arm twirl celebration is becoming a classic and it was matched by the delightful scenes behind the goal. There were just five minutes to go.

Leeds fans know how to rub salt in the wounds and immediately imitated Burnley’s goal celebration music for the next few minutes. Cries of “You should have gone Christmas shopping” soon followed as we got set to celebrate a remarkable win. A 5 minute stoppage time was not without scares,as Collins fell asleep at the back allowing Guidetti a strike at goal, but Kasper came to the rescue with a fine save. Leeds saw the last couple of minutes out for a fantastic victory.

The Leeds team took their time leaving the field, allowing the Burnley players off before saluting the magnificent away support. Grayson, who had left the field at half-time looking like he was going to punch someone, just punched the air instead. I have never seen him so pumped at a win.

With both QPR and Cardiff losing this weekend, this was a massive result. Not only are we now five points clear of 7th place, and well ensconced in the play off positions, we are only two points of automatic promotion. Following the defeat against Cardiff, not even the wildest optimist would have envisaged us being in this position. A performance like that shows the belief in the team. Even playing so hopelessly in the first half, they still had the resolve to turn it round and win the game. Maybe just maybe they, and us are starting to believe we could actually achieve promotion. There is still a long way to go, and in this league you can quite easily go eight games without a win. But you have to have belief in yourselves, and this team have been through a lot. The Christmas period is always crucial. Lets hope it’s a White Christmas. If it is, we could be sat very pretty going into 2011.

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