Leeds United 1 Blackburn Rovers 2: Fresh faces now needed to help Leeds’s play-off push

United's Alex Mowatt covers his face as Blackburn players celebrate their second goal.
United's Alex Mowatt covers his face as Blackburn players celebrate their second goal.
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SO much for the holiday season – if you are a Leeds United fan at any rate.

A haul of just two points out of 12 from four Championship games encompassing the Christmas and New Year period has hardly represented rich pickings, with the decorations being hastily taken down in plenty of Whites-supporting households.

As befits this time of year, there was a pantomime villain in referee Anthony Taylor, with several of his decisions leaving home punters incredulous on his first appointment at Elland Road since sending off three players in Leeds’s loss to Middlesbrough in August 2011.

But controversy aside – with both rival camps entitled to be unhappy with the Mancunian’s often odd decision-making – the stark fact reinforced by yesterday’s result is that United are in desperate need of fresh quality to boost their squad and ensure their play-off bid lasts the course.

To their credit, United produced a game display on the restart after a miserable first period when Rovers were full value for a 2-0 lead. But the overall level of Leeds’s performances over the festive period has been disappointing.

Effort and heart has not been found wanting, just the quality control issue with January, not for the first time in recent years, massively fundamental to United’s hopes of turning an encouraging first half of the campaign into a potentially great season.

Acknowledging United are in a bit of a rut and require new recruits, manager Brian McDermott said: “We’re squeezing everything out of the players here and they’re doing what they can, but it’s time now to bring in some players to help freshen the squad to help those that are here.

“We’re at the stage where we’re eighth in the league and we need to kick on and bring one or two others in. It’s a difficult window, but we need someone who just makes that difference.

“I think I’m going to get support from the board. I had a good conversation with David Haigh. They’re doing their best and we’ve been in the best position we’ve been for a few years.”

Successful sides strike in January, with Rovers expected to start their business briskly with the capture of Tom Cairney for a six-figure fee with his loan spell from Hull ending yesterday.

On the showing of the one-time United academy player – told he could leave Leeds as a 16-year-old for being too small – it will represent money well spent, with Whites fans similarly desperate for McDermott to get United’s transfer ball rolling swiftly.

Whites supporters nursing hangovers from New Year’s Eve won’t have been helped in their recovery by a dismal first half which followed on from United’s lacklustre showing at Nottingham Forest on Sunday.

Rovers punished United after just 13 minutes with Jordan Rhodes latching onto a splendidly-weighted pass from Cairney and keeping his cool to stroke the ball home for his 16th league goal of the season.

It was a classy move from Rovers, with United’s sole piece of first-half quality being a curling effort from the recalled Alex Mowatt, saved comfortably by Simon Eastwood.

Chances soon started to stack up for Rovers, with Ben Marshall going close before an alert clearance from Tom Lees rescued United after Paddy Kenny blocked DJ Campbell’s effort, with the loose ball travelling towards goal.

The visitors doubled their lead on 36 minutes.

Rudy Gestede rose unchallenged to power home a towering header from Cairney’s flag-kick to leave Leeds all at sea.

Gestede looked destined to add his second and Rovers third after brilliant interplay involving himself and Cairney, but a last-ditch tackle from Luke Murphy saved the day – with Taylor ignoring protests over the challenge.

Early encouragement after the restart was provided thanks to a defensive blooper from Leeds-born Tommy Spurr which gift-wrapped United a much-needed lifeline back into the game on 53 minutes.

Ross McCormack’s incisive pass to the onrushing Sam Byram should have been booted clear but defensive dithering only enabled Byram to set up Matt Smith for a tap-in.

It was a similar scenario to the Watford game with United banging on the door periodically to get back on terms, although they weren’t afforded any favours from Taylor, who didn’t penalise Lee Willamson when he appeared to take out McCormack as he advanced on goal.

Smith was just off target with a presentable chance, with United’s best moment for a leveller arriving 18 minutes from time when Mowatt struck the crossbar.

But Rovers possessed pace and menace on the break with Rhodes going close to sealing the deal 10 minutes later when he headed against the woodwork.

Despite being cajoled by the vast majority of the 30,145 crowd, an equaliser was not forthcoming with United left to reflect on a sobering start to the New Year.

Leeds United: Kenny; Lees (Poleon 77), Zaliukas, Pearce; Byram, Mowatt (Brown 88), Murphy (Ariyibi 45), Austin, Pugh; Smith McCormack. Unused substitutes: Cairns, Peltier, Wootton, Varney.

Blackburn Rovers: Eastwood; Marshall, Dann, Hanley, Spurr; Taylor, Williamson, Cairney, Campbell (King 65); Rhodes, Gestede. Unused substitutes: Kean, Kilgallon, Songo’o, Rochina, Judge, Mahoney.

Referee: A Taylor (Cheshire).