LEEDS United boss Simon Grayson praised his players after they hit back from the shock of going 2-1 behind in a game they were dominating to eventually fire five goals past injury-hit Doncaster Rovers.
The Whites had enough chances to have hit double figures, but after drawing their last two home games 2-2 and 3-3 they looked to be heading for more frustration when Rovers’ first two efforts on target brought them goals at Elland Road.
However, they ran out clear winners in the end as their outstanding players, Jonny Howson and Max Gradel, scored twice each and top scorer Luciano Becchio took his tally to 17 for the season.
Grayson was pleased to have got back to winning ways as Leeds cut the gap to five points on second-placed Swansea, who surprisingly lost at Scunthorpe and along with QPR were the only winners in the top six.
He said: “For 44 minutes I thought we were outstanding, the number of chances we created and the way we totally dominated the game. It should have been over by half-time if we had been a little bit more clinical.
“But you always know that Doncaster with Billy Sharp, who’s a prolific goal scorer in their team, might get a chance and that’s the way it panned out. We were hugely disappointed at half-time to be 1-1.
“It got even worse when we went 2-1 down, but the players showed a lot of spirit, character, determination and quality to get the result we deserved because I thought we were outstanding for large parts of the game.
“It could have been any scoreline because we had enough chances to win three of four matches.
“We made some great opportunities, but didn’t take them. Credit to Doncaster, they made some great blocks and their keeper made some good saves.
“We got done on a sucker punch that could have deflated us, but we deserved the victory by the end. I’m delighted by the performance, the way the players kept going, the quality they showed and the way we responded after losing last week.
“The most crucial part of the game was that when they scored their second goal we scored straight from the kick-off and then Kasper made a great save that kept Billy Sharp out.”
Grayson agreed that his side have become the great entertainers of the division, having now scored 67 goals and conceded 57.
He added: “We’ve got some good players and we try to be entertaining and to create chances.
“For my personal health and well being at times we are a little bit too open at times, but it’s the way I set my team out to play.
“People pay their money and they deserve to be entertained, but it would be nice occasionally to be two or three up to enjoy an afternoon from the touchline. But it doesn’t matter how you win matches at this time of the season, whether you win 5-2 or 1-0 in a scrappy game.
“We were disappointed last week, but we responded well and got three more points. We’ve now got 11 more games to achieve what we set out to do at the start of the season.”
United set out to have the game won in the first half hour and should have been out of sight long before Rovers had their first real chance.
Gradel was through on goal as early as the third minute only to be denied by the first of a number of great saves by Gary Woods.
Robert Snodgrass was then denied by a Sam Hird deflection before Gradel put Leeds ahead with a well struck shot from 20 yards out after Howson had put him in space.
The next 20 minutes was a series of chances and a series of misses as Gradel, Neil Kilkenny, Becchio, Bradley Johnson and Eric Lichaj all went close and Snodgrass somehow missed from two yards after trying to go round Woods.
The unthinkable happened in injury-time as Doncaster created their first real chance and Billy Sharp scored from close range after Leigh Bromby failed to cut out John Oster’s lob into the box. Grayson’s angry reaction when he kicked a bottle in the dug-out said it all and his players trooped off somehow level.
It got worse four minutes into the second half as Franck Moussa took advantage of hesitant defending to shoot home Rovers’ second, but the response was instant when Howson won the ball in midfield, drove on and beat Woods with a fine strike from 20 yards.
Moussa was denied by Kasper Schmeichel as the visitors almost made it three goals in a mad minute and the Leeds keeper had to be alert again to save from Sharp before United regained their composure to take control once more.
Gradel failed to convert two one-on-ones with Woods after racing clear of a flat Rovers defence and Howson shot into the side netting from a tight angle with United now roared on by a crowd awoken from a first half slumber.
Leeds finally went back in front on 75 minutes when Becchio was left unmarked to shoot home from a Bromby knock down.
Gradel was again denied by a flying Woods save shortly after, but he added his second goal on 83 minutes when left with an easy chance after Woods had blocked a close range shot by substitute Billy Paynter following a fine run and low cross by Snodgrass.
Howson put the icing on the cake with the fifth goal after running from deep to break the Rovers offside trap and bury a shot past Woods.
Leeds United 5
(Gradel 12, 83, Howson 50, 90, Becchio 75)
Doncaster Rovers 2
(Sharp 45, Moussa 49)
Saturday, March 5, 2011
Leeds: Schmeichel, Lichaj, Bromby, O’Brien (Naylor 90), McCartney, Snodgrass, Kilkenny, Howson, Johnson, Gradel (Watt 90), Becchio (Paynter 80).
Doncaster: Woods, Hird, Thomas, Friend, Mills, Shiels (Coppinger 69), Keegan (Hayter 77), Stock (Wilson 86), Oster, Moussa, Sharp.
Referee: Lee Probert.