The Leeds United team tasked with laying the grisly ghost of FA Cup humiliation at Sutton last Sunday contained only one survivor of that sorry afternoon. And, fittingly, it was that one man, Stuart Dallas, who finally made the breakthrough after 74 minutes last night at Blackburn Rovers, as United made a belated start on making up to their fans for such an awful lapse. Latching onto a sumptuous cross-field ball from Liam Bridcutt, the Ulsterman took one touch on his chest before firing in left-footed from the left of the penalty area into the far right-hand corner of Rovers’ net.
What had gone before was a lot of huffing and puffing, with quality at a premium but no little effort. League strugglers Blackburn were earnest but incompetent, while high-flying Leeds threatened more but failed to deliver. A major feature of the match was the sight of the home team’s attacks being repelled time after time by United’s returning colossus Pontus Jansson. As it turned out, in making so many aerial clearances, Jansson was just warming up his forehead to deliver a late coup de grâce in typically emphatic and ebullient fashion.
It was a goal-laden final quarter of an hour to finish a match that had been mostly dour and scrappy. Once Leeds had taken the lead, you fancied them to hang on and see the evening out. Ten minutes after the Dallas opener, though, Leeds keeper Rob Green managed somehow to let a scrappy bobbling low shot slip past him at the foot of his left hand post, and it looked as though the hosts would salvage an unlikely point. In previous seasons, we might even have worried that such a late pegging-back of a hard-earned lead would result in United chucking even a draw away and ending up beaten. But this Leeds side is made of sterner stuff – and they showed the character and persistence to come storming back and seal a late, late victory.
The winner, when it came, had a familiar look about it. United have been quite lethal from corners lately, with the diminutive Spanish trickster Pablo Hernandez seemingly able to place his corner kicks precisely where he wants to. On this occasion, he floated the ball with quality and accuracy into exactly the right cubic foot of Ewood Park airspace, where the hurtling Jansson met it resoundingly to send his header flashing into the back of the net, before the massed ranks of the joyous, exultant travelling White Army. In almost the same last-gasp moment, miles away up on Tyneside, Newcastle conceded a comical own-goal equaliser to QPR, completing an instantaneous four-point swing in Leeds’ favour. As last minute bonuses go, even Carlsberg would be hard-pressed to do better.
So Leeds, after such a calamitous Cup capitulation (which may yet prove to be a blessing in disguise) march on in the league. Next stop is local rivals Huddersfield on Sunday, and Town themselves face a home clash with fellow contenders Brighton on Thursday evening, in a match Leeds fans will fervently be hoping that both teams can lose. For the moment, some measure of forgiveness can be extended to our heroes in white (who actually turned out at Blackburn in a decidedly natty yellow/blue/yellow ensemble). Such an ignominious exit from the FA Cup will take longer to forget than completely to forgive, yet any fan with yellow blue and white running through his or her veins will know that cups are merely tin-pot, compared to the holy grail nature of promotion.
The least welcome statistic of the evening was another yellow card for the redoubtable Jansson, but that sort of thing goes with the territory of his robust and committed approach to keeping the opposition at bay. As long as he can continue doing just that, with the occasional fringe benefit in the shape of decisive goals from crafty corners, then everybody who loves Leeds United will allow him some latitude in matters disciplinary.
Because, make no mistake, the iconic Jansson is set fair to become the biggest Leeds United hero since Gordon Strachan – and he may well soon emulate the diminutive Scot by leading the Whites back up where they belong.