Leeds United 3 (Williams 33 og, Roofe 90+1, 90+5
Blackburn Rovers 2 (Mulgrew 47 pen, 90)
Football is a truly amazing game and the amazement it provides comes largely because we have absolutely no idea what any game will conjure up. Take today for example: Blackburn Rovers were expected to be a tough assignment even for a Leeds United side that was coming into the game on the back of six consecutive wins, high in confidence, and riding at the top of the Championship table. Tough yes, but the expectation was that Leeds would just edge it; 2 – 0 reckoned Messrs Sterland, Couzens and Hodge in the Pavilion ahead of the game.
The game followed a now familiar MO for Leeds, loads of possession and more chances in front of goal than the visitors and, just after the half hour, a Jack Harrison cross was neatly turned past his own keeper by Rovers’ defender, Derrick Williams. That should have been the moment that settled Leeds down and would be maybe just the first of three or four goals… but, as I said; football is a truly wonderful, amazing, unpredictable game. Just two minutes after the half-time break a deep cross to the back post found big Darragh Lenihan who climbed high above the more vertically challenged Forshaw and Phillips to head the ball back across goal to Charlie Mulgrew. Mulgrew quickly tapped the ball away, just a millisecond before Luke Ayling slid in to try to get it. Inevitably Ayling took the Rovers man down and as soon as the Blackburn advantage came to nowt, referee Steve Martin pointed to the spot. Mulgrew scored; Blackburn had an unlikely equaliser.
After winning six on the bounce and with the Christmas booze still circulating their tubes, most Leeds fans would probably have settled for that; the news from Norwich was that Forest were ahead anyway so we’d still be top if it all stayed like this.
But then, despite more possession and chances from Leeds and as the clock ticked round to the final minute of normal time, Blackburn scored direct from a free kick to lead 2 – 1, the same score line we endured at Ewood Park back in October. That time we’d been undone by two headed goals from corners – one from the aforementioned Lenihan – and now it looked as though another set piece and a penalty had undone us again. It seemed that, for maybe only the first time this season, we had reverted to “old Leeds” the one that often failed to manage games in the final minutes, made rash tackles in the box and all too often gave points away at the death. Blackburn players and fans alike celebrated the seemingly inevitable win with suitable gusto. “Who are ya?” cried the Rovers fans pointing at us….
This isn’t ‘Old Leeds’ though, this is Bielsa’s Leeds, the one that doesn’t know the meaning of resignation, the one that never gives up, and the one that understands that, as long as there is time on the board, there is time to score. Wasn’t it Brian Clough who once said it only takes a second to score a goal? Blackburn will do well to remember next time that football is nothing if not unpredictable!
With their backs against the wall, Leeds remembered all this and, with another sell-out crowd demanding they die for the cause, Leeds hit Blackburn with everything they had. A long right wing cross from Adam Forshaw was glanced across goal by Pablo and then met by the diving head of Pontus but David Raya got down to push that away before Pablo followed up with a close range shot. That was also miraculously kept out by the flying Raya, this time the ball bouncing up in front of Kemar Roofe, five yards out, who smashed it at goal once again. Incredibly, Raya got to that too, but with thousands on the Kop convinced that at least one of the shots must have crossed the line, all eyes were now on referee Martin. There was a split second delay while the ref waited for confirmation from his wrist device and then all hell broke loose as he pointed to the centre circle. Leeds had rescued a point at the death just as they’d bagged all three with an added time Roofe winner at Villa Park just days earlier! Incredible! But what were we saying about not giving up while there is time left? There were still about four minutes to play, and the Leeds players were not giving up on hope of a winner, there was clearly no thought of resting on our laurels; this Leeds side knows the way football can amaze and delight.
With the Leeds fans now taunting the Rovers fans with that “Who are ya?” chant, Leeds piled forward again, Pontus Jansson playing as a makeshift striker as he stayed up. Pablo Hernandez had been poor today by his high standards but even on a bad day, we all know he can turn a game in a flash. Suddenly, here he was out on the right wing; a quick look up to see who was in the middle, an inch perfect cross, and there was Kemar Roofe who’d found a yard of space between the two Blackburn centre backs to glance the ball home. Leeds had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat!
It’s tempting to trot out those old clichés at this point; “our names on it”, “It’s our time… finally!” and the like, as if to suggest that there is actually some unseen none mortal hand guiding us towards promotion; we footy fans love the idea of fate, omens, karma and such like, but let’s not kid ourselves. The only reason we are now seemingly getting the breaks, scoring late goals, and winning games so regularly, is because we have a top class coach and he has got a group of players to understand that, actually, the harder they work, the luckier they will be and that understands that in football, if there is time left, anything is possible!
Leeds Utd Blackburn R
Possession 71% 29%
Shots 24 8
On Target 10 2
Corners 6 2
Fouls 13 13