By Andrew Butterwick
Surprisingly it was blue sky that greeted us as we headed deep into East Lancashire for the clash with Blackburn Rovers. The Happy Chocker, Quiet One and Brother Chris were on board as we joined the exodus of 6,900 Leeds fans heading for Ewood Park hoping to see Redfearn's team halt Rovers impressive seven match unbeaten run. Our record in recent years of playing away in front of a massive Leeds support has not been that inspiring though so expectations were understandably on the low side. Could this be the day we put that jinx to bed? The consensus in our car was definitely on the page of "I'll settle for a point" as we parked the car and headed for the stadium.
Redfearn had stuck with the same team that performed so well last time out albeit against a lowly Blackpool side which meant the impressive Cooper kept his place at centre back despite the return of Bellusci. The game kicked off against a background of deafening noise from the travelling support who had packed into both levels of the Darwin end. Both teams started positively with Rovers' Ben Marshall causing Leeds early problems on the left wing. Sam Byram exchanged words with Bianchi more than once after he was left exposed by the Italian as the home side targeted Marshall's flank as the possible route to success. Twice Marshall cut inside to hit testing shots for Silvestri in the Leeds goal. Leeds' first sojourn into Rovers territory saw Adryan skip his marker with a clever flick but the home goalie Steele sprinted out to smother the chance.
Leeds were battling well in defence as the talented Blackburn side looked for a chink the Leeds back four. Their big centre forward, Gestede, was a handful for Pearce and Cooper and it was his lay off after good work by Marshall that saw ex-Leeds junior Cairney clip Silvestri's bar with a curling shot. It was nip and tuck as both sides looked for that all important opening goal. Antenucci slipped his marker and connected with a sweet through ball only to be pulled back for offside whilst minutes later the imposing Grant Hanley headed a Cairney cross firmly at Silvestri.
The noise levels in the away end lifted on the half hour mark as Leeds suddenly pegged Blackburn back with some fluent football. First Adryan skipped away from flailing Blackburn defenders like a fleet footed Gazelle before striking a vicious curling shot that had goal written all over it before Steele flung himself across the goal to make a miraculous save. Corner Leeds. With the giant centre back pairing of Duffy and Hanley at the heart of the Blackburn defence Leeds opted for a low near post corner which caused confusion in the home defence.............the ball came out to Cook on the edge of the box who struck a stinging volley which was deflected for another corner. Blackburn were on the ropes and Leeds went for the jugular. Another low corner caused panic in the heart of the home defence before Doukara pounced and slammed the ball home to give Leeds a precious lead. Bedlam in the Darwin end as the Leeds faithful celebrated as only they know how. 1.0 Leeds.
Blackburn hit straight back with a Gestede header safely gathered by Silvestri. Leeds were having the better of the game though with Warnock, Cooper, Cook and Adryan all catching the eye as the game headed for half time. Leeds next chance was cynically snuffed out by a Duffy handball as Antenucci left him for dead on the half way line. Although the Blackburn man received a yellow it seemed a poor sanction for preventing the Italian going one on one with the keeper. Half time 1.0 Leeds.
Not for the first time this season I spent the half time break purring over the first half performance at the same time worrying if we could continue the good form into the 2nd half. Memories of the Rotherham capitulation are still raw in my battle weary Leeds United memory bank. Silvestri appeared for the 2nd half in an inside out goalies shirt presumably because of a colour clash with the Leeds strip? My half time worries seemed totally unfounded as first Cook and then Mowatt strode deep into the home defence and tested Steele in the first ten minutes of the half. Blackburn started to push on looking for the equaliser but that just made the visitors dig in deeper. Silvestri pulled off a fantastic save to deny Rhodes from a tight angle after Gestede had won a long ball in the box. Maybe, just maybe this was going to be Leeds' day?
Blackburn were building a head of steam though but started to get frustrated as Leeds remained a goal in front..............that was until Leeds once again stamped on the self destruct button in the 70th minute. An innocuous through ball was chased forlornly by Rhodes before Cooper and Silvestri presented an early Xmas present to the ex Huddersfield as they both hesitated before Silvestri attempted a weak clearance leaving Rhodes a simple tap into the empty net. Bollox! The home crowd woke up and suddenly it was game on with Leeds wobbling like a punch drunk boxer. 1.1.
Once again Leeds were conspiring to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory after leading at half time and this particular fan, along with the other 6,899 travelling fans, were fearing the worst. Blackburn smelt blood and now urged on by the home support went in search of the winner. Ex Leeds "favourite" Luke Varney replaced Gestede for Blackburn and within a minute missed a golden chance as he headed a decent chance wide of Silvestri's goal. The pit of my stomach had now changed to 2nd half mode and an all too familiar foreboding overtook my first half optimism. We were now staring down the barrel of a defeat and there seemed to be little that Leeds could do on the field to prevent it. Redfearn replaced Cook with Bellusci in an attempt to shore up his fast fading team. Bellusci's introduction did add a spark to Leeds and soon Antenucci was latching onto a sublime ball from Adryan to rattle the Rovers's post with a shot that had Steele beaten. Maybe we could snatch a winner?
Thoughts of a winner for Leeds increased as they were thrown a sudden lifeline. Tom Cairney stupidly clattered Cooper after the ball had gone and earned a 2nd yellow. The lad from Kellington was taking an early bath and as a result the home side went into their shell to protect the point they had. With Blackburn sitting deep Leeds were now venturing forward trying to take benefit from their one man advantage. But this was Leeds and as I know all too painfully well we never do things easy. Leeds were about to commit football suicide against a team who were happy to defend for a point.
Leeds had the ball in their own half before sloppily losing it to Rhodes who slotted the ball through to Varney...............Byram's desperate tackle saw a theatrical dive from Varney earn a dubious penalty as the ref pointed to the spot without any hesitation. Bastard. Of course Rhodes converted the penalty to give Blackburn an undeserved late lead leaving the frustrated Leeds faithful in stunned silence. 2.1 Blackburn. Five minutes of added time saw Leeds throw everything forward to try and retrieve a match they should have at least left with a point but all to no avail. It ended 2.1 to Blackburn and most of the seething away support left the ground wondering why we seem incapable of holding onto a lead in the 2nd half of games. We didn't deserve to lose but if you gift a team like Blackburn two goals what do you expect? Warnock was once again outstanding for Leeds.
The journey home was quiet. Are we heading for a relegation dog fight or will the undoubted good football start to be rewarded with wins? With such a fine line between success and failure in this league individual errors are costing us dearly and unless we stop hitting the self destruct button this could be long winter. Still we can always put it right next week against Derby..............hang on a minute?