Turns out all Leeds needed was an early winter break.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side had suffered a nightmare before Christmas, shipping in 14 goals in three straight defeats.
But having had their feet up for a fortnight, United got their new year off to a dream start – easing fears their 2022 could end in the Championship, a destination their opponents Burnley are hurtling towards.
Substitute Daniel James is delighted after his late goal made it 3-1 to Leeds against Burnley
Leeds players are jubilant following James’ goal, with their winless run coming to an end
Stuart Dallas scored the decisive goal for Leeds as he struck in the 77th minute at Elland Road
At Elland Road on Sunday, Leeds looked a team transformed from the one which was humbled 4-1 on their last outing here against Arsenal 15 days ago.
That result came hot off the heels of a 7-0 humiliation at Manchester City and the Whites were at rock bottom in terms of form and squad reserves, with an injury crisis crippling the club.
For Leeds, then, a Covid outbreak came at an ‘opportune time’ – as the club’s chief executive Angus Kinnear put it in his programme notes – meaning festive fixtures against Liverpool and Aston Villa were postponed.
They came into this vital clash against relegation rivals Burnley feeling fresh and promptly produced their best performance of the campaign.
Maxwel Cornet had equalised for Burnley in the 54th minute but Leeds still prevailed
Cornet, who came on as a half-time substitute, found the net with an impressive free-kick
Jack Harrison celebrates after his goal put Leeds ahead in their clash against Burnley
‘It was a necessary victory in a game that’s very important at this stage of the season,’ said Leeds boss Bielsa. ‘I don’t ignore the situation that we are in and I also don’t ignore what my responsibilities are and that can’t not influence my state of mood.’
Leeds (3-3-3-1): Meslier 6.5; Ayling 7, Llorente 6.5, Koch 6.5; Dallas 8, Forshaw 7.5, Firpo 7; Raphinha 7, Klich 6, Harrison 7.5 (James 62, 7.5), Roberts 6 (Gelhardt 58, 7.5).
Subs not used: Klaesson, Bate, Hjelde, Summerville, Greenwood, Jenkins, Moore.
Scorers: Harrison 39, Dallas 77, James 90+2
Booked: Roberts, Llorente
Manager: Bielsa 8
Burnley (4-4-2): Hennessey 5; Lowton 5.5, Tarkowski 4.5, Mee 5.5, Taylor 6.5; McNeil 5.5, Westwood 6, Cork 6, Gudmundsson 5.5 (Cornet 45, 7.5); Lennon 5.5 (Rodriguez 80, 6), Wood 6 (Vydra 84).
Subs not used: Norris, Stephens, Collins, Pieters, Bardsley, Long.
Scorers: Cornet 54
Manager: Dyche 6
Referee: Paul Tierney 5
The emotion the usual stony-faced Bielsa showed when Daniel James sealed victory for Leeds in the 92nd-minute – sharing a long hug with his assistant Pablo Quiroga – told its own story.
He had come in for some fierce criticism last month and admitted himself pre-match that he had failed so far this season. There was, then, a huge relief around this result, which moved the Whites eight points clear of the drop zone.
What pleased Bielsa as much as anything against Burnley was the identity of his goalscorers.
Leeds have relied far too much this season on Raphinha, who had scored or provided half of their Premier League goals before yesterday. So for the Whites to score three goals for the first time in league this term, and without Raphinha contributing, was a nod to the quality in Bielsa’s squad.
That said, Raphinha almost made an outrageous early impact when he clipped the crossbar with an audacious lob from just past the halfway line.
But Jack Harrison was the man to grab Leeds’ opener six minutes before the break with his first league goal since making his loan move from Manchester City permanent last summer.
It came following an inexplicable error from James Tarkowski. Tasked with dealing with Diego Llorente’s long ball, the centre-half’s lazy attempted pass to Matt Lowton hit the pressing Harrison, who carried the ball into the Burnley box.
Harrison’s quick feet then bamboozled Tarkowski as he created space to shoot from an acute angle. And while his initial left-footed effort was beaten away by Wayne Hennessey, he was first to react to the rebound, steering the ball back towards goal with his right foot and this time beating the off-balance Clarets stopper.
Burnley boss Sean Dyche knew he needed to find some spark from somewhere and brought on summer signing Maxwel Cornet at half-time for his first appearance in a month.
Harrison put Leeds in the ascendancy as he scored his first Premier League goal of the season
Matthew Lowton was hit by a bottle thrown from the crowd as he celebrated Cornet’s goal
The Ivorian made an instant impression. Just nine minutes into the second half, Cornet won a free-kick after being hauled down by Llorente. And he stepped up to sweep in the setpiece from 30 yards, his pace and precision beating the dive of Illan Meslier.
This time, Bielsa was the manager to act, bringing on 19-year-old livewire striker Joe Gelhardt for Tyler Roberts and James for Harrison.
The double substitution changed the momentum of the match and – after Raphinha missed a sitter at the back post from James’ cross – Leeds retook the lead with 13 minutes to go.
Mateusz Klich and Raphinha worked a short corner to Dallas on the edge of the ‘D’ and the Northern Irishman superbly swept in first time with his left foot on his 250th appearance for the club.
Johann Berg Gudmundsson attempts to push forward under pressure from Diego Llorente
Any lingering nerves around Elland Road were then put to bed in injury time when Gelhardt crossed for James and the winger’s downward header was parried by Hennessey, who then watched the ball trickle in behind him.
This defeat for Burnley leaves them two points behind fourth-bottom Watford with just one win all season. The Clarets have a game in hand but they are about to lose their six-goal top scorer Cornet to the Africa Cup of Nations.
‘I have never lost belief in these players and I won’t do,’ insisted Dyche. ‘The pride I have them is enormous.
‘You can’t just look at Maxwel. Before we had Maxwel we had players who kept us in the Premier League. We have to make sure we perform without him when he goes away.’
Source: DailyMail Sports