By Andrew Butterwick
A chilly match day dawned in North Yorkshire as the Happy Chocker, the Quiet One and yours truly set off for Blackburn, Lancashire, for the latest chapter of Leeds United's increasingly promising season. With Leeds seeking a 4th consecutive win in November combined with Blackburn's woeful recent form confidence was unusually high in the car as we sped west over the Pennines. After last week's lucrative wager on a Ross Mac first goal and a 2.1 victory HC plumped for the same bet whilst I was fancying a 3.2 win for the mighty whites. John Lennon once famously sung about "4,000 holes in Blackburn Lancashire" but we were more interested in how many holes Ross Mac would find in the Lancastrian's defence as he looked to score for the 4th consecutive game. News that two more investors were ready to boost the January transfer fund only added to the mounting anticipation as we parked the car at The Golden Cup pub. All we needed now was a nice comfortable win and 3 more points deposited in our promotion account.
Dexter Blackstock was injured so Luke Varney returned to lead the line in the only change to last week's winning team. Byram remained on the bench. The atmosphere was tingling in the packed out Darwin end as the travelling hordes from Yorkshire made up over a third of the 20,000 crowd. "We always fuck it up when there's a big away following" HC helpfully pointed out as the match got under way. After an early scare from Dunn's testing low shot Leeds took the early initiative with some controlled and slick passing that saw them dominate the first 15 minutes. For all their possession the only shot Leeds had to show was a weak Ross mac effort after a lay off from Varney. This early impetus soon disappeared though as King, Cairney and Taylor began to boss the midfield battle and half chances flowed for Kane, Rhodes and Dunn for the home side. Maybe this wasn't going to be the perfect November for Leeds after all?
On the half hour mark Leeds finally created a golden chance as Varney knocked a high ball down into Ross Mac's path on the edge of the box who flicked a delightful ball to Pugh just 8 yards out but a combination of a good save and a less than firm finish saw the ball balloon over the bar for a corner. "Those are the chances we need to take" I mused. Blackburn were edging what was a very scrappy, tense game though not helped by yet another dubious refereeing performance by the man in the middle. Varney got a yellow card for jumping for a long ball as Leeds continued to play the long ball game. Worryingly chances were coming much more regular in the Leeds box as the ex Oldham & Millwall winger Taylor enjoyed plenty of freedom to weave his delicate skills across the pitch. Paddy Kenny made a good double save to deny the surprisingly quiet Jordan Rhodes. Half time approached though and time for Brian McD to rally his troops?
Blackburn threw a long hopeful ball into the box as they pushed for the vital first goal before the break. Danny Pugh conceded a soft corner much to the distress of the fan immediately behind me who went purple with rage as he advised Mr Pugh he could possibly of let it go out harmlessly for a goal kick......or words to that effect. A corner it was though and concentration dropped in the Leeds box allowing Spurr to bundle the ball into the net for a gut wrenching goal to the Rovers. 1.0 Blackburn. Mr Purple face now appeared to be self combusting as steam poured from his ears. The ref blew the whistle for half time and I sunk into my seat to contemplate a thoroughly disappointing first 45 minutes from the mighty whites. The cast from the local pantomime, Aladdin, were on the pitch drawing the lucky half time raffle. I wonder if BM can give their lamp a bit of a rub and see if the Genie can grant him 3 wishes for the second half I pondered.
The 2nd half followed a similar pattern to the first with Blackburn getting the better of a Leeds side who seemed to be sucked into playing numerous long balls down the throats of the redoubtable Rovers centre backs, Dann and Hanley. Austin was having one of his "off" days in the middle but he wasn't by himself. On the hour mark Byram and Smith replaced Varney and Peltier to try and spark an unlikely Leeds comeback. It was Kenny who was earning his corn though as he somehow kept out a stinging volley from the impressive King to keep Leeds hopes alive. Smith certainly caused disruption in the Blackburn back four which is probably why he seemed to be hauled down every time there was a corner or a free kick not that the ref contemplated giving a free kick or god forbid a penalty! Poleon came on for a final push as the away fans tried to suck the ball into the net. Even Paddy came up for a corner late on but in the end it all came to nothing and Blackburn gained a much needed win at the expense of a disappointing Leeds display.
Ross Mac threw his shirt to the crowd at the end revealing his tribute to Moody on his tee shirt. Top man. The Leeds fans were still singing defiantly at the end but this had been another frustrating performance from the mighty whites. Cairney, King and Taylor got the better of midfield whilst Hanley and Dann were very solid at the back for Blackburn. Leeds lacked the guile and craft to open them up with Austin and Ross Mac both under par although the Scot never seemed to recover from a first half knock.
The trek back up the hill to the car park gave plenty of time for reflection. Blackburn deserved their win in what for me was a scrappy match. There weren't too many Leeds fans disagreeing although the inconsistency of a lot of the ref's decisions did "puzzle" plenty of the 7,000 away fans. Still 9 points from 12 in November is not bad. Not for the first time this season I reflected how tight this division is and how the margin between the top and bottom is wafer thin. If only we had a couple more quality players...................
Wigan arrive at Elland Road on Wednesday for what will be a big test for Brian McD's team. Can they bounce back after this set back? Me thinks we're in for another tense, nervous night at the Theatre of Hope!