Can we get a mulligan on the first sixty seconds? If only we could. For the majority of Saturday’s contest, Leeds United looked the part. Facing Championship-leading Burnley in their own backyard, the Whites battled bravely and showed the potential of a side that has had all United fans dreaming of a late playoff push as the season winds down. But in a manner that has become all too familiar, this side continues to shoot itself in the foot. The little things continue to be the downfall of Leeds United.
Little things like conceding a soft goal inside the first minute. Little things like a highly-touted offseason acquisition missing the most obvious of chances.
Let’s explore each.
Conceding inside the first minute is inexcusable. Plain and simple. The Burnley goal was a wonderfully worked team goal but it came straight from the kick off. Leading scorer Andre Gray turned provider as he controlled the ball masterfully before laying it off to Canadian international Scott Arfield, who placed an inch-perfect shot inside the left-hand post from 18 yards.
Leeds United 'defending' for Burnley goal #LUFC https://t.co/BoRRKPOfFW— #WALMOT (@WALMOT3) April 9, 2016
From a neutral’s perspective, this is great football, but more must be demanded from the Leeds United starting XI. Playing the league leaders away from home should be enough of an impetus to raise the collective focus of a roster that has underachieved this season. Instead, Marco Silvestri was picking the ball out of his own net after just 58 seconds and United got off to the worst of starts.
Slack defending afforded Arfield an opportunity and the winger easily did his job. Perhaps this shows that the playing group cannot wait for this season to be over. This is something I can relate to.
Evans: "We got off to the worst possible start. It was a lack of concentration, but we went on and showed our character." #lufc— Leeds United (@LUFC) April 9, 2016
Next is Chris Wood. Now I’m not here to berate the lanky Kiwi or throw shade on a man who simply had a bad day at the office; there are enough media outlets already doing this for us. But my goodness, does anything better epitomise the current campaign than Wood’s performance on Saturday?
Wood woefully missed two glorious chances in the second half as he simultaneously butchered the hard work of a resourceful side and killed any chance of a stirring win away from home. Leeds enjoyed the better of the second half, but Wood could not convert headed opportunities into scoreboard pressure. All this despite being unmarked and alone inside the six yard box.
Chris Wood chance v Burnley #LUFC pic.twitter.com/3R7CBfQwQe— #WALMOT (@WALMOT3) April 9, 2016
Chris Wood chance (Part 2) v Burnley #LUFC pic.twitter.com/VnYDQw2oEg— #WALMOT (@WALMOT3) April 9, 2016
Over the course of 90 minutes Leeds was every bit the equal of a side seemingly destined to gain promotion back into the Premier League. United won the possession battle 53% to 47%, outshot their hosts twenty to nine and earned nine more corners than their opponent. But this all counts for nought as opportunities were wasted.
Now is it unfair to blame Wood for everything that transpired on Saturday? Of course it is. But he failed in the biggest moments, just as his side has done when faced with similar chances this campaign.
One step forward, two steps backward
A season that started with hopes of the playoffs and renewed optimism has been depressed by a rollercoaster that often crashes off the tracks. Three-game winning streaks followed by disastrous performances, promising wins followed by talk of media lockout and backroom bickering, good then bad – this is Leeds United in 2016. Unfortunately it has been one step forward, two steps backward throughout.
Massimo Cellino promised fans a beautiful season back in August, but Leeds now sit twenty points below the playoffs, and just two points above 21st-place Rotherham. A beautiful nightmare maybe, but this season can be described as anything but beautiful.
Manager Steve Evans was at a loss postgame and seemed only capable of praising the opponent. "If Burnley are winning games like today they're destined to be in the Premier League. They're full of good players and have a top manager." This is all true... but can we focus on improving Leeds and less on big-noting the opposition?
"The whole team, we've bossed it with some real quality of passing and movement. The only disappointing thing, and the mystery to all of us, is that we've lost the game." This was Evans' overall summary of Saturday’s performance.
It’s not a mystery Steve, your side just isn’t good enough at the moment.