|Blackburn Rovers 0 v 2 Leeds United
Saturday, 9th December 2023 Kick-off 12:30
Clinical Leeds take the points on the trip to Blackburn
Sunday, 10th Dec 2023 11:09 by Tim Whelan
Blackburn Rovers might have had slightly more of the possession, but our attacks always carried far more threat, and in the end we deserved to go home with all three points.
With over 7,000 Leeds fans at Ewood Park it was always going to feel like we were taking the place over, and Daniel Farke was later to thank us for making it feel more like a home game. There were plenty of the local constabulary on hand to look after us, but they were kind enough to say that the “overwhelming majority of fans behaved impeccably, as they usually do.”
Even though Blackburn had given us the whole of the Darwen end the crowd was still looking distinctly sparse in the other three stands, with the top tier of the opposite end being closed altogether. And time would tell that despite the huge official allocation we still had a few fans left over to help them sell a few more tickets in the home stands and make them slightly less empty.
Both sides started with an unchanged line-up, but Rovers boss Jon Dahl Tomasson was serving a touchline ban. Which seemed a bit pointless when his pitchside assistant had his headphones on, presumably receiving instructions from the manager in the stand. Not that it did them that much good.
With Blackburn eighth in the table at the start of the day we might have expected a difficult game on their own ground, and from the start they were quick to close us down and apply some pressure, though the closest they got in the early stages was a dangerous ball across the face of goal which they couldn’t quite convert.
As expected, the Leeds fans were making most of the noise, though there were 40 or so Blackburn wannabes in the closest block to our right. From my seat I couldn’t see into the stand to our left, but I’m told there was one in there who was offering to fight all 7000 of us before he was eventually thrown out.
At this stage Meslier was giving us a bit more anxiety than the Blackburn attack, almost dallying too long before kicking clear, more than once coming close to being tackled by one of their forwards. But at the other end we came as close to scoring from a free kick as we have all season, when a late tackle brought James down on the edge of the box. As usual Piroe sent it straight into the wall, but this time it deflected off the face of one of the defenders and went just wide.
And Blackburn were nearly undone by their own carelessness in trying to play out from the back, as Summerville nipped in and managed to knock the ball to Rutter, who was left with only Wahlstedt in front of him. The Frenchman needed to react instantly, but his chip over the keeper ended up as neither a shot nor a cross to James at the far post, and sailed harmlessly wide. But we would take the lead in the 27th minute.
As Blackburn passed the ball around the edge of our box looking for an opening Byram was able to head clear, and Rutter collected to take the ball downfield. I thought he was about to lose it by trying to be too clever, but he just managed to get past a challenge and spotted James running through unchallenged on the right. A defender belatedly came across, but James was still able to pick his spot and send the ball into the far corner of the net.
Evidently a few Leeds fans in the riverside stand couldn’t contain themselves and this led to a bit of a fracas. This was due to the stupidity of the stewards in taking the ejectees right past the 40 or so Blackburn 'Lads' in the corner, when they could just as easily have taken them down the next aisle to throw them out. Hopefully the home fan who threw a punch at one of them was also arrested.
Szmodics tried a cross and the ball hit Stuijk’s hand as he was already on the ground. It would have been very harsh as the ball was drilled straight at him from a couple of feet away, and I believe the guideline is that handball shouldn’t be given if the ball hits the arm of a player who is using that arm to support the rest of his body. And he had his back to the ball at the moment of contact.
From the corner Mesliler punched clear when he was under no pressure, and when it fell to Szmodics just outside the box he thankfully sent the ball well wide. Brittain was also off-target a few minutes later, slicing the ball into the side netting from close range. On 70 minutes Farke freshened things up by sending Gnonto on for James, while Spence finally got back on the field in place of Byram.
But this meant Spence had to operate in the unfamiliar position of left back, and I make that six different players have now played there this season at different times. He did look a little uncomfortable on that flank, but did make some useful contributions going forward. Such as when he started the move that almost led to a goal from his fellow substitute.
Piroe found Gnonto free on the right, but his shot was deflected up onto the bar, first by a defender and then the keeper before it bounced over for a corner. We needed a second goal to make the game safe, and it finally arrived in the 75th minute, and like the first goal it was a breakaway after we cleared up the remains of a Blackburn attack.
As we came forward there was a neat interchange of passes between Rutter and Gray, before Gray spotted Summerville racing through on the left. I just had time for a quick glance at the linesman to check there was no offside flag, before looking back to Summerville, in time to see him chip the ball over the advancing Wahlstedt into the net.
That was the signal for the home stands to empty out even more, with even the supposed die-hards in the corner heading for the exits. Those who left missed the best chance their team created all afternoon. Siggurdson was given the space to win the ball at a corner and he sent a looping header towards the far corner, which Meslier did well to tip over the bar.
There was also one final shout for a penalty, and according to the BBC “Jake Garrett went down in the box as he tussled with Ethan Ampadu”. I’m going to plead the Arsene Wenger defence and say I didn’t see it, as it was at the other end of the stadium, and the incident hasn’t made the highlights package of the game on TV.
As we moved into the closing stages Anthony and Gruev came on, and as Bamford had been laid low by a bug, we needed Matteo Joseph to play the bleach blond hairdo role up front. Summerville, Piroe and Rutter were the players replaced.
We were surprised that seven minutes of injury time was announced, but that wasn’t long enough for Rovers to cause us any more difficulties, and all that remained was for the team to thank us for our support and Daniel Farke to do his whirling arm thing.
Unfortunately it’s pretty much as you were at the top of the table, with those pesky Leicester and Ipswich chaps also winning. The only crumb of comfort from other results was Southampton being held to a draw, thanks to a comical last minute error from their keeper. But all we can do is to keep winning our own games and hope we can sort the top two out again when we next meet.
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