Stuart Dallas leads as fighting Leeds United give their fans a happy new year

There could not have been a more fitting match-winner for Leeds United on Stuart Dallas's 250th appearance for the club.

Substitute Dan James put the cherry on the top of a 3-1 win with his stoppage-time header, but it was Dallas's bending shot from outside the area which broke Burnley's stubborn resistance and earned the Whites an invaluable three points.

If you were not sure how much it meant you could see it in the hug between Marcelo Bielsa and Pablo Quiroga as James's header squeezed through Wayne Hennessey, and hear it in the delirium at full-time.

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All of them will be hoping this is a sign of better things to come in 2022.

GOAL: Stuart Dallas puts Leeds United back in front against BurnleyGOAL: Stuart Dallas puts Leeds United back in front against Burnley
GOAL: Stuart Dallas puts Leeds United back in front against Burnley

Part of the journey Bielsa has taken the Whites on from the start, Dallas's difficulties this season have been a watered down version of the team's, just as his brilliance did last, but he has never shirked a challenge and when Leeds put 2021 behind them on a wet day in West Yorkshire, Dallas broke Burnley hearts.

It has been a difficult first half of the season for the Northern Irishman, not helped by the loss of a close friend, but even so, the 2020-21 player of the year has always been there for them in a campaign where so many have been unable to be, starting every match except the League Cup game against Crewe Alexandra, where he went unused as the insurance policy on the bench.

Yesterday he started at right wing-back and unusually for him stayed in the position for the whole 90 minutes, although at times towards the end he was almost playing as a fourth centre-back, protecting the other three from long balls.

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Last Christmas, Leeds reset with a 1-0 home win over Burnley that was to sum up the better balance between defence and attack they would strike in the second half of the season, peaking with Dallas's outstanding display and match-winning goal at Manchester City. Hopefully this will be another.

Burnley's mindset was apparent in the 24th minute when they showed no intention of retrieving the ball for a Matt Lowton throw-in, leaving Tyler Roberts to play ballboy as James Tarkowski laughed at the angry Leeds fans.

At one point the Kop noisily counted how many seconds - 18 - it took Hennessey to take a goalkick.

Minutes later it was the Leeds players standing around as Aaron Lennon frantically got the ball back for them. Goals really do change games.

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Leeds's had been coming, though it would take 39 minutes before it did.

Roberts' eagerness to get the ball back had been an important factor in the chances which preceded it, swooping on Ashley Westwood's unwise pass across the back to win a corner. Dallas shot at Hennessey indirectly from it.

The centre-forward's eagerness had earlier cost him a booking and a suspension for a foul on Lowton.

Three minutes later, Roberts won it again, teeing up Raphinha to graze the crossbar with a shot from just inside Burnley's half.

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Leeds's confidence was epitomised by Junior Firpo's backheel running onto a cross Raphinha took his time measuring. Hennessey saved well after it deflected off Chris Wood's arm, tight to his body.

Minutes later the left wing-back popped up on the right, allowing Roberts to win another corner.

With Lennon playing half-and-half between midfield and attack on his first Elland Road Premier League appearance not in white, Leeds for once did not overthink things, and just treated Burnley's shape as a 4-4-2, releasing Firpo to get forward. It meant Diego Llorente and Robin Koch started together for only the third time and alongside one naother in defence for the first.

For all his alertness and eagerness, though, Roberts is at centre-forward to score goals, and he fluffed his big chance to do it, directing his header wide of the far post when he ought to have buried Luke Ayling's cross. He also shot at Hennessey when one-one-one, but played in Raphinha and Firpo for efforts.

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By then at least, Leeds were ahead, Jack Harrison having his left-footed shot saved but scoring the rebound with his right.

Early in the second half the crowd got excited as Mateusz Klich turned Ayling's well-measured pass inside, Roberts slipped, sucking the momentum out of the mood, got up and shot over.

So passionate was the roar when Joe Gelhardt was summoned from the bench after 58 minutes it felt like on top of their excitement at the teenager's introduction was a fair dollop of antipathy towards the poor striker who had just pulled his muscle.

He lived up to it, too, like James significantly improving the team.

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There was urgency too, because Leeds were by then on level terms.

For all that they were comfortably the better team in the first half, the Clarets still had chances, Illan Meslier saving with his shins from point-blank range from Wood, running onto a cross from Charlie Taylor, not exactly welcomed back to Elland Road with open arms by the home fans.

Wood swept another Taylor cross just over in first-half stoppage time.

So it was hardly out of the blue when Burnley equalised after 54 minutes, particularly having brought their best player, Maxwel Cornet, off the bench at half-time.

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Llorente fouled him - his booking bringing another suspension - and Cornet curled in the free-kick before unwisely running over to goad the Kop despite referee Tierney telling him not to.

Even more unwisely, one fan threw a plastic bottle which caught Tarkowski in the head.

The pattern at every Elland Road game since the start of December has been for thousands to cover themselves with their passionate support for the team and one or two brain donors to let themselves down badly. There was a similar incident against Brentford.

More to the point, Leeds had a game to win. James quickly followed Gelhardt off the bench and the two nearly combined in the 63rd minute, Hennessey cutting out the cross as Gelhardt slid in. When he was unable to connect with another James delivery, Raphinha hit the side netting from a tight but makeable angle.

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Five minutes later, though, it was all forgotten, Raphinha and Mateusz Klich working a corner for Dallas to score.

James capped it off, getting on the end of a Gelhardt cross to secure a win as pleasing as it was hard fought.

Wins like this are ones you can take that little bit extra from.

Leeds United: Meslier; Ayling, Koch, Llorente; Dallas, Klich, Forshaw, Firpo; Harrison (James 61), Roberts (Gelhardt 58), Raphinha.

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Unused substitutes: Klaesson, Bate, Hjelde, Summerville, Greenwood, Jenkins, Moore.

Burnley: Hennessey; Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee, Tayor; Gudmundsson (Cornet 46), Cork, Westwood, McNeil; Lennon (Rodriguez 80); Wood (Vydra 84).

Unused substitutes: Stephens, Collins, Pieters, Norris, Bardsley, Long.

Referee: P Tierney (Wigan).

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