By Andrew Butterwick
Julius Caesar was warned by a soothsayer "Beware the Ides of March" before he was assassinated on this day in 44BC. To my knowledge there aren't any soothsayers in Leeds but there are plenty of members of the populous predicting another catastrophic defeat for the town's once mighty football team in today's clash with Burnley.
That's despite the fact that in the life of a Leeds United supporter a trip to Burnley is not usually a massive cause for concern. Our record at Turf Moor over the years is respectable having lost there only twice since 1974. So why was there a massive dose of trepidation and fear in the car as the Happy Chocker, Quiet One, yours truly and Brother Chris traversed the Pennines towards the dark satanic mills of the small East Lancashire town? Maybe because Burnley are currently on a 13 match unbeaten run, haven't lost at home for a year and sit comfortably in the automatic promotion places. Maybe because Leeds have won just 2 of their last 15 games and shipped an embarrassing 9 goals in the last week or more to the point we have witnessed Brian McD's team suffer a spectacular loss of form, confidence and fight since Christmas which has indelibly removed any hope or expectation of a win from the thoughts of the remarkably loyal and vociferous mighty whites fans?
It felt as if there were nearly 4,000 Lemmings hurtling towards the inevitable cliff of defeat as we passed numerous cars and buses decked out with the famous colours of Leeds United as we headed into Lancashire. Pre match refreshments at Burnley cricket club fuelled the foreboding of another defeat as it was impossible to find anyone who thought we had a chance against the high flying Clarets. It's fair to say that the away end at Burnley is one of the most ancient and under equipped stands in the championship but by kick off time the place was absolutely buzzing as the potent mixture of alcohol and blind loyalty had fired up the Leeds travelling army. Brian McD had given Smith a starting spot alongside Ross Mac with Wickham and Mowatt on the flanks. The disastrous 5-3-2 system was ditched in favour of 4-4-2.
Leeds started the brighter in stark contrast to the showings against Bolton and Reading. There was a real purpose in the Leeds play as they took the game to the home side. After just 8 minutes Ross Mac released Smith in the box with an exquisite pass..............the big centre forward rifled in a low left footed shot that Heaton saved comfortably. Maybe we could get something out of the game after all? Minutes later Ross Mac broke free from the home defence and bore down on the Burnley goal before chipping the oncoming Heaton only to see the ball bounce cruelly back off the post. The Leeds captain had a follow up shot blocked as the chance drifted away. This was lot's better I thought as a deafening chorus of Marching on Together belted out from the David Fishwick stand. Next Wickham thought he'd put Mowatt through but the linesman's flag was fluttering away to the right. After the recent woeful performances this was like dining on Caviar as the Leeds fans eagerly responded to the positive play on the pitch..........well almost all did. One fan near me was waging a constant verbal assault on Matt Smith despite him having a decent game. Sometimes there's no pleasing some people. "If he scores he'll be falling over the seats in celebration" HC correctly observed.
Burnley were looking dangerous on attack but the hard working Pearce supported by Lees were keeping the Clarets at bay with the help of Butland in the Leeds goal. Marney and Arfield had good shots blocked as the Leeds defence held firm but as the clocked ticked towards the half hour mark it was the away side who deservedly broke the deadlock. Leeds won a throw in on the left. Wickham launched a long throw into the box for Smith to leap and flick the ball onto the predatory head of Ross Mac who made no mistake as he buried the ball in the Burnley net. 1.0 Leeds and the travelling hordes were in dreamland. "How shit must you be we're winning away" the Leeds fans taunted their hosts. Leeds deserved their lead and looked to add to the one goal lead as they had two corners in quick succession but the Burnley back four held firm.
With Burnley's last home defeat over a year ago they were hardly going to roll over and die just because we had gone in front so when Trippier released Marney into acres of space on the Burnley right vacated by Mr Pugh the alarm bells were ringing in my head. Marney whipped in a vicious cross that Pearce sliced into his own net under pressure from Vokes. 1.1. Leeds were rocked by the equaliser and Burnley started to turn the screw as half time approached but it was Leeds who had the best chance to go in in front. A delicious knock down from Matt Smith left Ross Mac free on goal but his shot was blocked by a last ditch tackle. Half time 1.1.
A good first half showing from Leeds that was as unexpected as it was welcome. Smith was causing problems up front and Pearce and Lees looked relatively solid at the back. The Ref had given some strange decisions in the first period, not all in favour of the home side. Now could we hold onto the point or even pinch all three?
The 2nd period started with Leeds attacking their fans in the David Fishwick Stand. Lees, Mowatt and Smith all had shots saved or blocked before the game reached the hour mark. Poleon replaced Mowatt for Leeds and went alongside Smith with Ross Mac dropping to the flanks. No sooner had Poleon got on the pitch then Burnley took the lead. Space opened up on the Burnley left allowing them to drive deep into the Leeds box before squaring the ball back to Arfield who's initial shot was blocked but he slammed the follow up firmly past Butland. 2..1 and you'd think Burnley had just won the Premier League by the way they celebrated taking the lead.
Leeds now had twenty minutes to try and find the equaliser and urged on by the travelling fans Leeds showed some of the fight and determination that has been sadly missing in recent games. Murphy swung in two teasing corners into the box where both Smith and Pearce scrambled to get their heads on the ball. Murphy hit a shot from outside the box from a lay off from Austin that cannoned away for another corner. Pearce received a yellow card for dragging down Ashley Barnes as Burnley looked for the killer third goal. The game entered the final minutes with the result still in the balance. Leeds deserved to get something for their efforts as the home fans started to celebrate a vital win. Leeds won a corner deep into added time. Butland joined the fray from the back and tantalisingly headed over from 8 yards as Leeds' final chance disappeared. The ref blew his whistle to signal a Burnley win 2.1.
The boo's of recent games were replaced by the rhythmic chants of "We all love Leeds" followed by a final chorus of "Marching on Together" as the players left the pitch. A Leeds fan climbed into the rafters of the stand and danced precariously on the beams high above his fellow fans below. We had lost but restored some of the pride in the shirt today. Pearce was outstanding at the back and probably my Man of the match. Wickham showed his undoubted class on the wing but at times looked periphery to the action. Smith was a handful all afternoon up front despite what the fan behind me thought. If only Ross Mac had converted one of his golden chances in the first half things might have been different.
Once we got out of Burnley the trip home was a reflective one. All the pre match talk of a heavy defeat proved to be wide of the mark but why can't we put performances in like this every week? Burnley look a well drilled and very hard working side who have taken advantage of some astute signings to mould a team who seem to have one of the automatic promotion spots tied up. If Burnley can do it on a shoe string budget why can't we?
Millwall are next up at Elland Road always an interesting game. If Leeds produce the same form at Elland Road then three welcome points should be there for the taking.........but will they? You never know. A week's a long time in football.....................especially on Planet Leeds.