ROSS McCormack eased the pressure on manager Simon Grayson with an injury-time winner for Leeds United against Burnley in an eventful first Npower Championship of the new year at Elland Road (writes Tony Harber).
With three minutes remaining of normal time Grayson was staring down the barrel of a fourth straight defeat and another game without a goal as his side trailed 1-0 to a Burnley side reduced to 10 men by the sending of right-back Kieran Trippier in the 28th minute.
But Leeds were finally rewarded for a much improved second half display when their 15th corner brought dividends at last as it was turned into his own goal by Burnley defender Brian Easton.
The reinvigorated Whites then poured forward for a winner and got it in the sixth minute of injury-time as new loan signing Andros Townsend saw his speculative strike from distance spilled by keeper Lee Grant and substitute Ross McCormack raced in to round the Burnley number one for a winning goal greeted with huge relief.
For the second time this season United had secured a come from behind late victory over Burnley, although it was deserved this time as it had been a complete injustice that they found themselves behind to one of only two second half efforts by the visitors - Charlie Austin beating Andy Lonergan with a well struck shot from the edge of the box on 69 minutes after Darren O’Dea had failed to clear a high ball.
For the rest of the second half Burnley concentrated on keeping Leeds out and they had a lot of defending to do as the Whites poured forward in numbers and had a new match winner in winger Andros Townsend, brought in from Tottenham on the eve of the game and a top acquisition on this evidence.
With Lloyd Sam also threatening on the other wing after coming on as an early substitute for injured defender Patrick Kisnorbo, United got the ball wide at every opportunity and could not believe their fortune as several chances went begging and long range strikes by Townsend and Ramon Nunez were well saved by Grant.
The Burnley keeper also produced top drawer saves to deny Lloyd Sam and Darren O’Dea, who’s header was pushed onto the crossbar, while teenager Zac Thompson - who started in midfield and switched to right-back after Kisnorbo’s departure - came within a whisker of his first senior goal with a superb drive and Mikael Forssell, on as sub for Luciano Becchio, blazed a glorious opportunity over.
Burnley had to play two thirds of the match with a man down after Trippier saw red, maybe a little harshly, for two fouls on Townsend, who was a huge threat from the moment he switched flanks from the right to the left following the early Leeds substitution.
The visitors could not cope with the pace and skill of the on-loan winger and it said a lot for their approach that David Edgar and Ben Mee were also booked for fouls on Townsend. How ironic as well that their blatant time wasting should also be punished with such a late winner in time added on for the messing about they indulged in throughout the second half.
Burnley did start the better when it was 11 against 11 and Austin missed a great chance to open the scoring when clean through in the fourth minute. He also had another effort tipped over by Lonergan and the best Leeds could do in a drab opening half was a Kisnorbo flick just wide from a Townsend corner and a swerving Nunez shot that was well held by Grant.
It was a different story in the second half, however, and manager Grayson was pleased with the effort shown by his players, particularly after their 4-1 drubbing at Barnsley just two days earlier.
He said: “With five minutes to go, we were staring down the barrel of another defeat. But I thought we played well and had enough chances. I’m delighted we stopped the rot.
“The work-rate was really good, we closed them down, got balls into the box and just didn’t get the breaks. But we kept going right to the end.
“It’s a massive result for everybody. We’re at home, we don’t want to get adrift of the play-off positions and it’s important we win football matches.
“Nobody likes to lose four on the trot and at one stage it looked like it was going to be that. But the players showed immense character. We had players that came into the team and did very well.
“Zac Thompson was excellent for a young kid, Andros Townsend gave us something we’d not had over the last few weeks - somebody who can carry the ball and run at defenders. Others did well - Alex Bruce came in after his loan spell at Huddersfield because it was needs must and we didn’t have any other players available.
“I made five changes today and we could have made 11. The response was good and they did what we asked them to do.
“We had a long meeting and watched the DVD of the Barnsley game. It obviously wasn’t too good a viewing, but we highlighted the points where the players had to do better.
“You could sense there a bit of nervousness in the first 15 minutes, but we stuck in there and got the break with the sending off and kept going right to the very end.”
Leeds United 2
(Easton og 87, McCormack 90)
Monday, January 2, 2012
Leeds: Lonergan, Bruce, Kisnorbo (Sam 17), O’Dea, White, Townsend, Clayton, Thompson, Nunez (McCormack 74), Pugh, Becchio (Forssell 74).
Burnley: Grant, Trippier (sent-off 28), Mee, Edgar, Easton, Wallace, Marney, McCann, Stanislas (Amougou 36), Rodriguez, Austin (Vokes 74).
Referee: Mark Brown.
Leeds United were responding to a horror show at Barnsley on New Year’s Eve that left manager Grayson fuming.
The Whites boss was true to his word by making five changes from a side beaten 4-1 at Oakwell when he threatened that some had played their last game for the club, so disappointed was he with their performances.
After seeing his side collapse to let in three goals in 21 second half minutes, Grayson did not mince his words.
He said: “It was embarrassing and shambolic. We were involved in a local derby against a team that beat us a few weeks ago and we didn’t show any passion or desire and too many players made wrong decisions, playing more as individuals than collectively as a team.
“When you play for Leeds United you’ve got to earn the right to play for the club and make sure you give your all from the start to the final whistle of every game. Too many didn’t do any of that. It’s embarrassing for me as manager and for our supporters to be put through that it is unacceptable.
“Too many players went into their shell when the second goal went in. Any player can have a bad day at the office in terms of passing or giving the ball away but unless someone chops your legs off it doesn’t stop you from running around.
“The players have got to take responsibility and one or two might not play for the club again.”
Right-back Paul Connolly and midfielder Mika Vayrynen felt the full force of Grayson’s anger by being dropped all together for the Burnley game with striker Andy Keogh sent back to Wolves after his loan spell ended. Ross McCormack and Michael Brown were left out of the starting line-up, but were on the bench.
United, meanwhile, have completed the £500,00 transfer of utility player Danny Pugh, who has been on loan from Stoke since September. More players are expected to come in this month with a defender a new priority following a spate of injuries in this area in recent weeks.
(Vaz Te 17, 51, 72, Davies 61)
Leeds United 1
Saturday, December 31, 2011
Barnsley: Steele, Hassell, Foster, McNulty, McEveley, Addison, Wiseman, Butterfield (Vaz Te, 15), Perkins, Done (Gray 78), Davies.
Leeds: Lonergan, Connolly, Kisnorbo, O’Dea, White, McCormack, Brown, Pugh, Vayrynen (Clayton 54), Nunez, Keogh (Becchio 54).
Referee: Neil Swarbrick.