Leeds United 1 Burnley 0: Final flurry not enough to give Leeds play-off chance

THE mathematicians may claim Leeds United are still alive in the hunt for the play-offs after completing the double over Burnley.

But the body language of the United players as they embarked on their now customary lap of honour after bringing down the curtain on another season at Elland Road told a different story.

Among the back-slapping and applause was an unmistakeable sense of ‘what might have been?’

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Nottingham Forest were, at the time, still to play Scunthorpe United but few genuinely believed the Iron had any chance of upsetting the odds at the City Ground.

So it proved with Forest romping to a 5-1 victory that leaves Billy Davies’s side all but confirmed in the final play-off place due to Leeds needing to not only close a three-point gap on the final day but also overcome a six-goal deficit in the for and against column.

It is, quite plainly, not going to happen – hence the muted response of players and supporters alike during the end-of-season lap of honour. Minds, it seemed, were focused on the many instances where points had been dropped from seemingly unassailable positions.

Ken Bates had even alluded to this in his programme notes, the United chairman lamenting the September night when Preston North End somehow fought back from being 4-1 down to win 6-4.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In truth, there are several moments that can be looked back upon with regret with Leeds having squandered two-goal leads several times this season.

As frustrating, however, as missing out on the play-offs will be for United and their supporters, once the dust has settled a sense of pride will no doubt be felt at how well Simon Grayson’s side have performed on their return to the Championship.

Clearly, there is plenty to build on for Leeds with their attacking play having, at times, been a joy this term.

Luciano Becchio, Davide Somma, Robert Snodgrass, Jonny Howson and Max Gradel can all be happy with their contribution, not least as they have netted an impressive 66 goals between them.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

All will be looking to improve on that next season, a sentiment that Ross McCormack will share.

The 2010-11 campaign has not been a happy one for the 24-year-old who joined from Cardiff City for £300,000 last August.

He has started more games for the reserves than the first-team and until the visit of Burnley had been yet to score in a white shirt.

All that changed against the Clarets, however, with McCormack capping a hugely-impressive display by netting the only goal of the game on 33 minutes to remind everyone at Elland Road of the ability that just two summers ago persuaded Hull City to bid £3m for his services.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

McCormack said: “My first goal was a long time coming, though I don’t know what was sweeter – starting a game or scoring a goal.

“But it was nice and, hopefully, I can bag another one next week (against QPR).

“This season has been frustrating, though I am also realistic and know that Luciano (Becchio) has been in good form and so has Davide (Somma).

“But I think I have now shown what I can do. Everyone knows now what I can do. The most important thing was getting the three points to make sure we take it to the last game. Hopefully, after winning the league, QPR will be on the beer all week.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I thought the team played well. Winning by two or three goals would not have flattered us. Burnley are a good side but we thoroughly deserved the three points.”

McCormack’s assessment was a sound one, Leeds having dominated against a disappointing Clarets side who had started the afternoon still firmly in the race for the play-offs.

Burnley can, admittedly, point to the dreadful 18th-minute decision by referee Phil Crossley not to award a penalty when Chris Iwelumo was knocked to the floor by Andy O’Brien as mitigation.

But, on the balance of play, there was little doubt that United were worthy winners.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

With Grayson opting for a 4-4-2 formation that saw McCormack paired with Billy Paynter, the Yorkshire club produced their most impressive performance in weeks.

In midfield, Neil Kilkenny’s return in place of Jake Livermore meant a return to the neat passing style that has proved so effective this term while up front Paynter benefited hugely from having a partner to share the workload.

But for the heroics of Brian Jensen, Paynter could have been celebrating a hat-trick at the final whistle with the 31st-minute save that kept out a goalbound header being so impressive it drew applause from the partisan home fans.

Jensen also denied Jonny Howson with a brave block, while O’Brien and Max Gradel were denied during a second-half onslaught.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Clarets goalkeeper was, however, unable to do anything about what turned out to be the winning goal when McCormack latched on to a sublime pass from Bradley Johnson before coolly rolling the ball into the corner of the net.

Forest’s resounding win against Scunthorpe meant, ultimately, that McCormack’s first goal in a Leeds shirt was not enough to keep his club in with a realistic chance of nabbing sixth place.

It did, though, at least ensure what has been a hugely entertaining season at Elland Road ended on a high.

Captain Richard Naylor said: “We wanted to finish on a high regardless of whether it put us in that play-off place or not. It was important to end on a positive note for the fans, who have turned out in force all season. We wanted to put on a display for them.

“Everyone is happy that we have finished on a high note in front of the fans but we wanted to get promoted so we are all disappointed we haven’t achieved that.”