Football returned to Elland Road yesterday as Leeds hosted a strong-looking Burnley side relegated from the Premier League at the end of last season.

Leeds got off to a bright start when a perfectly measured long-ball from Giuseppe Bellusci found Sam Byram, who showed himself to be a major threat to the visitors on the right-wing. His cross found new signing Chris Wood, who made a bit of a mess of his first opportunity of the day. Wood’s scuffed attempt fell kindly to another new arrival in Stuart Dallas however, pouncing quickly on the loose ball and unlucky not to open the scoring with a good effort tipped onto the bar as Burnley scrambled to keep the scores level.

Stuart Dallas followed up with another effort soon after, but couldn’t catch the ball cleanly after he was played in by Alex Mowatt. The new winger was exciting the Elland Road crowd though and when he later turned play from defence to attack quickly, running almost the length of the pitch and mugging one of Burnley’s players in the process, his stock rose even further.

Leeds had been dominant in the opening exchanges but Burnley had seen a couple of penalty shouts dismissed by the officials. The first, a tangle between their forward and Charlie Taylor was certainly debatable. The Leeds youngster was clearly pulling their forward, but Burnley’s forward was also backing into him to draw the foul. One of those you’ll often see given, but they’re usually a result of cynical forwards taking advantage of how whistle-happy many refs are nowadays. The way I see it is, Taylor had two options… fall on his arse after the Burnley forward backs into him, or keep himself up by grabbing the only thing he can. I’m not saying Taylor made the right choice, but had he gone down instead, he’d have probably been given a foul himself. 50/50 for me.

Of the two shouts, it was the more credible one though. The second was a handball appeal and while it did strike Bellusci’s hand, there’s precious little he can do about it. Fans are always going to appeal for them of course, but short of players having their arms removed, the ball will occasionally bounce up and strike someone’s arm. That’s why there’s a ‘ball to hand’ rule. A handball, as far as I’m concerned, should only apply when a player has deliberately handled the ball to gain an advantage.

Burnley started to find their stride by this point though and managed to create a couple of chances of their own, one in particular was brilliantly saved by Marco Silvestri, who still can’t/won’t catch or kick, but has ‘the reflexes of a Jedi cat’ to quote one of our Twitter followers.

At half-time, Leeds will have been the happier of the two sides, but Chris Wood had been something of a passenger for large parts of the first half, looking very isolated in the lone-striker role without getting the support from Mowatt and Cook we’d probably planned for.

The second half started with a bit of dodgy patch from Leeds as Sol Bamba and Giuseppe Bellusci had 30 seconds of madness, taking turns to cover for each other’s mistakes. I suppose you could take positives from the cover they provided each other, but nervy moments in defence were a staple of last season and the one we most needed to fix. On the whole, we looked better defensively, but we’re not without considerable room for improvement.

The best shout for a red card came ten minutes into the second half when Lewis Cook broke free and looked to counter a Burnley attack by racing up field while the visitors had men committed forward, only to be hacked down by Scott Arfield who had absolutely no chance of getting the ball – nor did he expect to. The referee booked Arfield and gave Leeds the free-kick, but this was a dangerous, cynical foul that could have easily justified a red.

Leeds regrouped quickly though and went back on the attack, Alex Mowatt firing agonisingly wide of the post after Sam Byram found him in space on the edge of Burnley’s box.

Byram continued to run Burnley ragged, providing a chance for Adeyemi to have a pop on a rare stroll forward for Leeds’ new holding midfielder. The chance was fired over by the Cardiff City loanee, who looks like he could be something of an unsung hero this season, quietly and competently going out of his business with little fanfare.

The clearest chance of the day for Chris Wood is one he’ll be kicking himself for not scoring. Once again, Sam Byram was showing himself to be a creative force for Leeds, gifting Wood a gilt-edged chance that looked certain to be placed into the bottom corner. Instead, the New Zealand striker went for power, blazing his shot over the bar.

Soon after, Byram (again!) provided another chance for Wood, who looks like he’ll need a few games to shed the rust after scuffing another shot.

Uwe Rösler made his first substitution of the day around the 70th minute mark, replacing Stuart Dallas, who’d been a bit quieter in the second half but hugely impressive in the first, with Mirco Antenucci. Both players received a great reaction from a lively Elland Road crowd.

Last season’s top goalscorer wasted no time getting into the mix, firing his first effort of the day over from the edge of Burnley’s area.

And the Italian wasn’t to be denied for long, cutting inside onto his left foot and curling an incredible shot into Burnley’s goal to open the scoring and stake an early claim to the goal of the season title. Certified ‘worldie’ as the kids would say.

It had taken 82 minutes for Leeds to break the deadlock, but Burnley hit back quickly. Perhaps letting concentration slip slightly after taking a late lead, Leeds’ defending wasn’t at its best in the build-up and Sam Vokes found himself in plenty of space to head home a very good equaliser.

There was little chance for either team to take all three points after that, Mirco Antenucci going closest with another effort from range, but the opening day War of the Roses clash was to end with honours evenly split.

Ups and Downs 

Solid start from the Whites against strong opposition. Stuart Dallas and Sam Byram look like they’ll create plenty of chances for Leeds this season as The Whites finally solve the width problem.

The football wasn’t tiki-taka by any stretch of the imagination, but it was fast and attacking from Leeds. Mixing a few long diagonals with some shorter passing spells, Uwe’s philosophy looks to be a pragmatic and purposeful one. The hangover from Neil Warnock’s drab football means any hint of a long ball sends shivers down the spine of Leeds United fans across the world, but these weren’t aimless punts up field (for the most part at least), instead, what we saw was a system designed to take advantage of the width we’ve been lacking for years, playing into the channels for Byram and Dallas to do the damage.

It’s a plan that would have worked better but for a little more luck and some sharper finishing from Chris Wood. Dallas was desperately unlucky not to open the scoring in the first half (already half-celebrating when his shot rebound off the bar) and Wood’s rustiness cost him a better debut. Placing a shot beyond a keeper one-on-one always looks easier than it is, but when a striker of Wood’s ilk opts to blast his effort instead, you know they’re not at the top of their game just yet.

In central midfield, Lewis Cook didn’t have the impact he was having towards the end of last season, partly because the focus of ground coverage has moved from him to the wings and when Leeds are on the attack, both he and Mowatt need to be pushing forward and getting into areas to support Wood. I’ve argued at great length on Twitter that our formation isn’t 4-3-3/4-5-1, but simply 4-5-1 and that’s evident from the opening game in the way Byram and Dallas played a traditional wing role (instead of right and left forwards). In this system, the support for Wood should more often come from central midfield than the wings, whose main job is to cover the ground and get the ball into the other three (potentially four if the winger from the opposite side cuts in like Dallas was doing).

I can well imagine Adeyemi will be one of the least mentioned player of match reviews come the end of the season, not because he didn’t play well or have any impact, but because his job is that of the unsung hero. He sits and protects our frail defensive line, pouncing on roaming opposition attackers and denying them time and space on the ball. One of the missing links last season I’d argue.

I’m probably being a little harsh calling our defensive line ‘frail’ because they all had a reasonably good game, save for the dodgy patch at start of second half and Burnley’s equaliser. We tend to expect a faultless 90 minutes from our defence, but that’s never going to happen in the Championship, where we’re bound to make the odd mistake, just like the opposition always will. The nature of football is that you can review every single goal ever scored and point out a defensive error or a point at which it could have been prevented. On the whole, there’s room for improvement, but I’m less concerned by our defence than I was.

Overall, this was a tough opening day match-up Leeds will feel unlucky not to have won. The team put in a good performance and only reinforced my belief we can surprise a few people this season.

Man of the Match 

Sam Byram, by a distance. He tormented Burnley all day, single-handedly providing more chances in an afternoon than we managed in a calendar month at times last season. At just 21, Byram is already looking like he’d slot right into most Premier League line-ups. Burnley had no answer for him.

  • henrymouni

    I think the defence was ‘frail’ at times TSS.
    We still look dodgy from corners, crosses and free kicks into the box, and Burnleys goal was horrible from our point of view.
    This was last years defence so what can you expect?
    I am sure Uwe will sort it out and bring someone in.
    Overall I was very happy with the effort and skill we showed. Burnley are a strong physical team and we stood up to them very well.
    When we scored, my first thought was “don’t fall back and fall asleep”Oops!
    Wood had 3 good chances, Dallas had two, and Mowett one, which was a vast improvement on last year!
    MOT!!!

  • JDC

    Best, and most balanced match report I’ve read so far TSS … well done.

    As far as the game was concerned … there were so many positives on show compared to last season and things will only get better. For me, Tom Adeyemi looks a class act in midfield and will develop into our own Michael Carrick whilst Stuart Dallas was a breath of fresh air, and he too will only get better with game time.

    Good to see also, a professional coach showing his passion at a top drawer goal from Antenucci.

  • Tim Campbell

    Very encouraging signs indeed especially if we use Burnley as a yardstick for where we should be in this league.We more than matched them and probably deserved all 3pts on the day. What it tells me is that we are more than a match for any team in this league and if we can strengthen with another couple of signings we will be in the mix not just for play offs but automatic promotion too

  • spellz

    Overall pretty happy with the performance, I think in all fairness no one really deserved the win , point seemed fair on reflection but you cannot feel that way when you grabbed the lead in the 83rd minute, we should have got tight put complete pressure on them and shut up shop but typical us eh.

    Dallas had an excellent first half and looked miles ahead of Dakoura fitness and drive for that position and I think he should start next Sunday too, Wood could have done better at times with his finishing but it’s his first game and I can see there is plenty to come from him, he looks strong very good at controlling and a great talisman.
    By the 60th minute I was desperate to see Antenucci come on as I remember him from last season being the liveliest of the pack and most natural finisher and boy he didn’t disappoint – What a finish!!!!

    I have to agree with henrymouni our defence at times looks a bit weak but with Samba earning a yellow so early we were always going to sit back more than commit but saying that the skipper did fly in with some challenges soon after, Beradi seemed to struggle with Knightely but got the job done most times and got up the pitch a few times to good effect he also put in a cross that Wood should have put away bellusci was pretty solid other than the pull back late on, he needs to just put a small amount more of discipline to his game to be complete, midfield were quiet in my opinion the likes of Mowatt, Cook e.t.c were not involved enough and were pretty quiet and that’s what I though was our downfall, however I though Adeyemi looks a prospect.

    My summary is that we have come a long way since last season, and if we were genuine title contenders the commentators would have said this is a game between two teams that will be there at the end of the season, so you have to be happy that we matched a team that have been in the premiership for the past season.
    Uwe was very active on the side which we are not used too and that was definitely a positive, bring on Donny and Reading.

    M.O.T AA.

  • Alberto

    How many goals is Antenucci limited to via contract this year? …

  • Tyler75

    Really encouraging performance; Dallas and Adeyemi look to be excellent new additions. Wood although he missed a couple of chances he will probably be slotting with his eyes shut in a couple of months, gave Burnley’s back-line a torrid time and freed the space to allow Antenucci to do what he does so well. We look as if we’ve got real options now, something we never had last season. If I’m a Championship Manager with a big forward I’d be saying get one on one with Bellusci in the air – great header from Vokes but Bellusci never left the ground. For all Bellusci’s ball playing skills, I still think Cooper alongside Bamba would make us much more solid. Byram was excellent yesterday but I thought Bamba was outstanding, not only defensively but as a Captain. Don’t think we’ve got anything to fear in this League. MOT

    • oldschoolbaby

      I`m with you, fella. Simply by playing a RB at RB and having some width out left we are easier on the eye but the balance still isn`t right in central defence. Bellusci does things that gladden my heart but, in the Championship especially, his aerial deficiencies will be targeted mercilessly. Blackwellesque set piece formations will only compensate so much. Vokes`s header was difficult one to place so well, relatively little competition would have rendered it virtually impossible. You can`t talk about absolutes in football but you can construct a good argument that Bellusci`s lacklustre challenge cost 2 points.
      Byram does well but our other taller players – Taylor, Ademyi and Murphy aren`t aerially proficient enough. We need another commanding presence. Cooper should be given a run. Or has the Liam Moore speculation some foundation.

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  • Lufc79

    All I know is that the people running this fantastic club really need to get SAMs contract sorted out straight away and as soon as possible as I really feel we are a much better side with him than without him…..so get your cash out again MC and keep this crown jewel.

  • Mike

    We looked good on Saturday, and that’s with in my opinion Cook and Wood not being at their best in my opinion. I’m imagining what goes on once they’re firing on all cylinders, potentially exciting times ahead.

  • Alberto

    And then…. Wootton … Wtf?