HONDURAS international Ramon Nunez was Leeds United’s Carling Cup hero again as he followed his double strike against Bradford City in the first round with another two goals to see off Doncaster Rovers, writes Tony Harber.
United came from behind and survived an early onslaught at the Keepmoat to go through to the third round and a possible tie against one of the big boys.
They had to dig in as Rovers flew out of the traps and went ahead in the third minute when James Hayter – who famously scored the winner in the play-off final against Leeds – scored from close range from a low cross by Giles Barnes, who was on trial at Elland Road this summer.
Lively home winger Kyle Bennett came close to adding a second with a shot over and another effort well saved by United’s debutant keeper, Paul Rachubka.
Bennett then raced completely clear on 20 minutes and beat Rachubka only to see his curling shot bounce back off the post straight back into the grateful arms of the Leeds keeper.
United were fortunate to be only one down at this point, but gradually worked their way into the contest after switching from their starting formation of 4-4-2 to a 4-4-1-1 with Nunez playing just behind striker Andy Keogh and Ross McCormack switched to the left wing.
Jonny Howson hit a volley from the edge of the box onto the roof of the net as Leeds finally found their attacking feet and on the half hour they were level when Rachubka’s long kick was flicked on by Keogh and fell nicely for Nunez, who beat home keeper Gary Woods with a superb strike from 18 yards out.
Doncaster started the second half well with Rachubka forced to make a smart save to deny Bennett’s header, but the hosts were not to dominate again as they had at times in the opening half.
Keogh was presented with two half chances to get his first Leeds goal only to shoot well wide on both occasions and substitute Max Gradel almost made an immediate impact with a strong run that ended with a shot over.
At the other end Mark Wilson’s 25-yard shot was fumbled by Rachubka with the keeper fortunate to see the ball go just past his post, but it was United who came up with the winner seven minutes from time.
Again it was a moment of magic from Nunez as he latched onto a deflected Paul Connolly cross to fire another unstoppable shot past Woods from the edge of the box.
Now it was time to defend the lead and Rovers forced some late pressure, which resulted in a scramble in the box and a shot from George Friend that brought a save from Rachubka.
The hosts went even closer in the 88th minute when Bennett’s 20-yard shot hit the outside of the post. But that was their last chance as Leeds saw out the remainder to earn their place in the next round.
They could have put the tie to bed in injury-time as Gradel raced clean through only to be denied by Woods as he tried to round the Rovers keeper.
Manager Simon Grayson was pleased to see his mix and match side, which included rookie teenagers Zac Thompson and Charlie Taylor, make it through, but was critical of the start the players made to the tie.
He said: “We didn`t get to grips with how they started the game with their formation. We know Doncaster are a good footballing team and they try and get players in little pockets and play between the lines and for the first 15 to 20 minutes we didn`t deal with it.
“We changed the system slightly and got back into it with a great strike from Ramon, but we are disappointed after getting off to such a poor start, it`s something we need to sort out.
“The players need to do something differently because it`s three away games that we have conceded early which is disappointing.
“The best thing about tonight is we got the result and it didn`t go to extra-time.”
Grayson had words of praise for his two-goal hero, Nunez.
He added: “He has a great technique and works hard for the team. He put in a performance telling me I should pick him.
“Both his goals were great strikes and he plays with immense quality and confidence. He went away and understood the English game more at Scunthorpe, he played for Honduras in the summer and I’m delighted with him.
“He has turned down playing for Honduras since to win his place and has made the sacrifice that others maybe wouldn’t. But this is his bread and butter and he can do no wrong.”
Doncaster Rovers 1
Leeds United 2
(Nunez 30, 83)
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Carling Cup, round two
Doncaster: Woods, Hird, Naylor (O’Connor 66), Friend, Spurr, Dumbuya, Gillett (Stock 86), Oster, Barnes (Wilson 69), Bennett, Hayter.
Leeds: Rachubka, Connolly, O’Brien (Kisnorbo 76), O’Dea, White (Taylor 60), Sam, Howson, Thompson, Nunez, McCormack (Gradel 64), Keogh.
Referee: M Brown.