It was a far from a happy new year for Leeds United as they suffered a second successive defeat and their first at home since September in losing 2-1 to Blackburn Rovers.
The misfiring Whites were two down at half-time and fortunate not to be further behind before they fought back in the second half with a Matt Smith goal and could have earned a draw if Alex Mowatt’s shot had not hit the woodwork.
Several contentious decisions by referee Anthony Taylor added fuel to the fire of the home fans, but Blackburn were good value for a win that saw them complete a double over Leeds.
After a disappointing Christmas period, United looked to make a strong start and had a half-chance in the first 20 seconds, Smith getting a block in on a Rovers clearance and the ball falling to Rudy Austin, who drove forward only to see his shot deflected wide.
But Blackburn looked dangerous with their three-man forward line and after Scott Dann headed over from a corner they took the lead when former Leeds junior Tom Cairney put Jordan Rhodes through and the ex-Huddersfield striker finished confidently past home keeper Paddy Kenny, who was still struggling after an injury picked up in the previous game.
Alex Mowatt brought a save out of Blackburn keeper Simon Eastwood as United looked to hit back, but their decent start soon turned into a poor display.
Their only other effort of note in the rest of the half was a back header by Luke Murphy that was easily saved by Eastwood as the visitors played the much better football.
DJ Campbell got in behind the Leeds defence and beat Kenny only to see his shot cleared off the line by Tom Lees then Rovers doubled their lead on 36 minutes when Rudy Gestede headed a Cairney corner into the net from close range with Kenny rooted to his line.
It could have been three before half-time as Gestede got in behind the home defence despite looking offside, but Murphy got back to make a desperate tackle and got just enough on the ball to save the day.
Leeds boss Brian McDermott threw on 18-year-old winger Gboly Ariyibi as a half-time substitute and changed formation to 4-4-2 from the 3-5-2 of recent weeks. His team responded with a much better display and within a minute Smith found space in the box only to shoot wide from an angle.
Ariyibi hooked a shot over after a weak punch by Eastwood and the pressure and volume was being cranked up.
On 53 minutes United were given a lifeline as Sam Byram took advantage of hesitant defending by Tommy Spurr to get a tackle in inside the area, the ball falling kindly to give Smith a tap-in for his eighth goal of the season.
Blackburn still carried a threat, however, and Grant Hanley’s header had to be cleared off the line by Smith.
The action quickly switched to the other end and McCormack was taken out just outside the box while running on to Ariyibi’s fine through ball. Unbelievably referee Taylor failed to award a free-kick not produce the car that should have been given to Rovers’ Lee Williamson.
The referee was now in danger of losing control as tempers frayed and a frustrated McCormack was booked after arguing with Blackburn’s Dann, who was also carded.
Leeds had a big appeal for a penalty turned down when Smith appeared to be pushed in the area and the visitors also had a shout repelled as Campbell went down under a tackle in the home area. The referee was certainly centre of attention and did not endear himself when booking three more home players while letting off Blackburn players for similar challenges.
Another mistake by the official saw him signal for a goal-kick after Smith’s shot in the box was clearly deflected wide by a visiting defender.
Yet another goal-line clearance by Lees came to United’s rescue after Spurr’s overhead kick beat Kenny, but Leeds then went even closer when Mowatt got free in the area only to see his shot bounce back off the woodwork.
Not to be outdone, Rhodes hit the crossbar with a header at the other end.
After all the excitement, it was a somewhat tame ending to the game with Blackburn surviving five minutes of injury-time comfortably to collect their three points and leave Leeds scratching their heads about what has suddenly gone wrong.
Leeds United 1
Blackburn Rovers 2
(Rhodes 12, Gestede 36)
Wednesday, January 1, 2014
Sky Bet Championship
Leeds: Kenny; Lees (Poleon 77), Zaliukas, Pearce; Byram, Murphy (Ariyibi 45), Mowatt (Brown 88), Austin, Pugh; McCormack, Smith.
Blackburn: Eastwood; Marshall, Hanley, Dann, Spurr; Taylor, Cairney, Williamson; Gestede, Campbell (King 66), Rhodes.
Referee: Anthony Taylor