Just over 8,000 fans bothered to turn up for the EFL 3rd Round clash with Blackburn Rovers as Leeds United went in search of a 3rd win on the bounce to reach the last 16 of this much maligned competition. With our normal stand closed I had chosen seats right behind the dug out to get a different perspective on the game. Despite indications to the contrary in the pre match press conference Leeds made 7 changes friom the team that prevailed in Cardiff with the most notable absentee the mighty Pontus Jansson who had apparently been laid low by a fever. I didn’t think Scandanavian Gods could get a fever?
Leeds exploded into life straight from the kick off and attacked a Blackburn side showing 9 changes from the weekend. A flowing move saw Mowatt set up Roofe who’s shot was blocked and rebounded to Coyle who volleyed a stunning shot from 30 yards that the Blackburn keeper just finger tipped over the bar. Wow! With only a minute gone this was surely the sign of the home side throwing caution to the wind and battering their rivals from over the Pennines? Well not quite. Both teams played with plenty of energy but without a clear cutting edge. Leeds had the better of the first twenty minutes but it was Rovers who had the best chance as Gallagher headed wide from 8 yards out.
O’Kane was showing leadership and organisation in the middle for Leeds with Phillips playing the advanced midfielder role. Roofe and Mowatt were out wide with Antonsson working hard up front. The game became scrappy as the half progressed with Blackburn growing in confidence. Byrne forced a good save from Silvestri with a stinging shot to the top corner but Roofe brought the half to a close with a snatched shot that screwed wide of the Blackburn post. Half Time 0.0. Wembley seemed a million miles away as the two teams trudged off in front of the sparse crowd.
Both managers clearly tried to fire up their charges at half time as they both looked to attack at the start of the 2nd period. The game was going nowhere though until the 59th minute when young Vieira was injured. Up stepped a certain Pablo Hernandez and suddenly the atmosphere changed. After his stunning goal on Saturday there was an audible reaction whenever he got the ball……..and for good reason as he ghosted past a couple of Blackburn defenders like they weren’t there. This was better. Roofe was also seeing more of the ball on the left and although his confidence is low it didn’t stop him attacking the hesitant Blackburn defence. Wood replaced Antonsson on 71 minutes to try and get the goal that would avoid the dreaded extra time. Coyle and Hernandez were enjoying some success down the right flank and Roofe so nearly opened the scoring as he leapt high to meet a cross from Coyle.
Tension was rising as both sides looked for the winner as the clocked ticked past 80 minutes. Grimes replaced the mis-firing Mowatt to add a bit more urgency into the Leeds midfield. Within two minutes the change had paid dividends. Grimes broke from midfield to set up a Leeds attack…….Hernandez drifted onto the ball and ran tantalisingly at the retreating Rovers defence before unleashing a fierce shot that the goalie could only parry straight to Roofe………….the ex-Oxford man so desperate to score scuffed his shot back across the goal where Wood shinned his first shot against the goalie before heading the rebound in! Class! 1.0 Leeds and all of a sudden that horrible propect of 30 more minutes and then penalties disappeared. Excellent.
In true Leeds style Silvestri had to deny Emnes from adding to his goal from last week and then Taylor blocked a shot on the line from Akpan before seeing out 4 minutes of added time and cementing a place in the 4th round. Full time 1.0 Leeds. Difficult to choose a Man of the match. O’Kane looked assured in midfield, Phillips did well as did Coyle. Hernandez and Wood tipped the game towards Leeds when they came on as the home team did just enough to beat Blackburn for the 2nd time in a week. Not a classic game in a very subdued atmosphere but suddenly Leeds seem to have found a togetherness and a way of playing that is looking a lot more effective. Maybe our name is on the cup this year? Well at least we’re in the draw and we can dream for the next couple of weeks at least.
Ipswich up next at Elland Road on Saturday. Hopefully Jansson returns to repel Mick McCarthy’s physical stormtroopers and secure a 4th win on the bounce?