When Leeds United‘s defence stood politely aside to allow Burnley’s Scott Arfield to score in the first minute of Saturday’s early Championship encounter at Turf Moor, it looked like a long lunchtime ahead for long-suffering Whites fans. And, ultimately, a defeat is a defeat – even by that solitary goal. It’s clearly never welcome. But the way this game panned out carried more than a little encouragement for Steve Evans‘ troops, and for that loyal travelling army. Credit too, to Steve Evans, much maligned by a section of the Leeds support and in the most ignorant and offensive manner. Evans has retained his dignity in the face of this, and he was there in the dugout – despite a family bereavement – as enthusiastic in the cause as ever.
The fact is that the dread prospect of a couple of hours watching Silvestri pick Burnley goals out of his net never actually transpired. Over the piece, as Leeds grew into the game instead of reeling from that early shock, it was United who carried the greater threat. They had more of the possession, found better spaces, forced more corners and generally bossed proceedings – save for that annoying little habit of failing throughout to trouble the scorers.
The devil, as they say, is in the detail. The only detail anyone’s ever really bothered about at the end of a football match, is that telltale scoreline to indicate who got the points. Burnley added three of those valuable items to their league total as they consolidated their position at the top of the league. But almost every other aspect of this match could easily have had you fooled as to which of these teams is sitting proudly astride the Championship.
The tragedy for Leeds on the day was their lack of a decisive finish to so much good work. On many another occasion, Chris Wood – still rusty after a long injury absence – would have had at least two goals to help rehabilitate his season. Looking at the plus side, he was at least actually there to miss the chances, an important part of any striker’s CV. Less positively, he certainly should have snapped them both up, and he will know he has no excuses. There are reasons though – form, confidence, match sharpness. In time, this burly young striker will hit a real hot streak. Will that be in a Leeds United shirt, though? Only time and perhaps the attitude of the less patient Leeds fans will help decide that.
On this occasion, and in marked contrast to many recent performances, I feel that Evans has much to take from the game. Sadly, that doesn’t include any points, despite the fact that United deserved something from a match they dominated for long spells. But, at this stage of our promised “beautiful” season, the ugly truth is that points are not all that relevant. The threat of relegation is almost gone, and any fanciful ideas of play-off chances have long since been laughed out of court. It’s evidence that Leeds can perform as a team that matters now – and there was plenty of that at Turf Moor.
The sooner yet another bleakly disappointing season is over, with United safe for another year, the better. Then, it’ll just be a matter of waiting for the positive spin to start emerging from Elland Road, with “We’re looking to get our business done early” the ante post favourite. For the time being, let’s be grateful for the extremely small mercy of a decent performance, albeit in defeat.
For Leeds United fans, in these bleak and troubled times, that’s about as good as it gets.