ROSS McCormack’s long awaited first goal in a Leeds United shirt kept the season alive for the Whites for another week, but he may need to score another five next week if he is to lead his team into the Npower Championship play-offs.
The former Cardiff striker (pictured) has endured a difficult first season since his move from Wales, but was finally rewarded for his patience with a first start since January 4 and a winning goal that ended Burnley’s hopes of a top six finish.
Unfortunately for Leeds despite an excellent performance in their must-win encounter they too look like missing out on the play-offs after rivals Nottingham Forest beat Scunthorpe 5-1 to stay three points ahead of the Whites with just one game left and massively boost their goal difference to boot.
Even if Forest lose at Crystal Palace and United win their last game on Saturday at QPR it would need two extraordinary results for the Whites to leapfrog their rivals as they have a plus six worse goal difference.
If only they had taken more of the numerous chances they created against Burnley as McCormack was unlucky to hit the post and missed a one-on-one with the goalkeeper, his strike partner, Billy Paynter, went close four times, Andy O’Brien saw a header saved on the line and substitute Sanchez Watt shot over and wide with two great late chances.
But at least United sent fans home happy in their last home game and manager Simon Grayson was pleased with the performance.
He said: “The last thing we said to the players was believe and have no regrets when they come off the pitch and they went out and put on a real good performance.
“I thought we were very dominant. We played very well with the ball and without it and on another day we could have won the game quite easily.
“The keeper made some good saves and a little bit of extra coolness in front of goal would have made it easier.
“But when we were out of possession everybody worked hard, the front two, the midfield four, the back four defended when they had to do, Burnley have got some good players, but we defended well as a team.
“The players went out with something to prove and to send our home fans home with a smile on their face. There were more than 30,000 here and there won’t be many bigger crowds with an atmosphere like that throughout the country.
“Whether it’s the last home game or not It was vitally important that we send them home in a positive manner.
“I still have hope because I know things can happen. We had to do what we needed to do and that was win the game. The way we did it was encouraging and positive.
“We had to make sure we were still in with an opportunity next week.
“The players will learn from the experience whether we’re in the play-offs or not and be better this time next year.”
Grayson had words of encouragement for his striker McCormack.
He added: “He’s had to be patient. When I bought him in the summer it looked like we were going to play 4-4-2 and he was going to be one of the strikers, but through different injuries he got and a change in the system we played his opportunities have been few and far between.
“But testament to the lad he’s kept working hard in training and he’s looked really sharp in the last few weeks. That’s why I decided to play him.
“I thought his movement would cause Burnley problems and it did. The bonus was he got his goal as well.
“If we’d had injuries to other players he might have got more of an opportunity. The fortunate thing for us was that the players that were keeping him out of the team were scoring lots of goals or creating them – Max Gradel, Luciano Becchio and Jonny Howson in that attacking role.
“Ross has found it hard and it’s a squad game. It will have found it frustrating like one or two others, but whatever happens in the next few weeks we will start again pre-season and he will be like a number of players waiting for that opportunity.”
Leeds United 1
Saturday, April 30, 2011
Leeds: Schmeichel, Lichaj, Naylor, O’Brien, McCartney, Gradel (Watt 89), Kilkenny, Howson, Johnson, McCormack (Bromby 90), Paynter (Snodgrass 76).
Burnley: Jensen, Mears, Duff (Wallace 74), Bikey, Fox, Elliott, Cork, McCann (Delfouneso 64), Rodriguez, Eagles, Iwelumo (Thompson 79).
Referee: P Crossley.