IT WAS an evening when Leeds United’s stayaway supporters were largely vindicated – although thankfully proceedings were provided with one saving grace.
It came in the nick of time, with Whites’ top-scorer Chris Wood’s close-range effort five minutes from the end of a forgettable contest helping to spare the hosts from an extra half hour that they would much rather not have countenanced.
Wood’s sixth goal of the campaign ensured United progressed into the last 16 of the League Cup – now in its latest guise as the EFL Cup – for just the third time in 14 years, but it was another statistic that drew the attention.
The Elland Road crowd was just 8,488 – the Whites’ smallest home attendance in almost seven years since a Football League Trophy tie with Darlington in October 2009.
Perhaps it was not entirely surprising that, in the circumstances, a low-key occasion ensued, with United having just about enough in the tank to see off their troubled visitors, who went down to their second loss in Leeds in just over a week.
After back-to-back wins, the next building block in an ideal world for Leeds and Garry Monk would have been a routine progression, complete with an accomplished home performance to match.
That will clearly have to wait for another day, but United’s head coach Monk can at least point to a third successive victory on the spin, with another win and booking a berth in the fourth round being the primary motivation on the night.
Monk is also likely to flag up another clean sheet and a strong finish to the game, which was rewarded with Wood’s relieving breakthrough.
It is fair to say he will be feeling rather happier than he was ahead of the league game with Rovers eight days.
Not too much, mind.
A sparsely populated crowd witnessed a mini-flurry of early action in the first half, only for it to subside tamely very quickly as the game lost its way.
A much-altered United line-up, featuring seven changes from the weekend, struggled for cohesion and players were guilty of several unenforced errors with a number of those who had been restored to the home starting line-up passing up the chance of significantly catching Monk’s eye.
Indeed, it was Rovers – fielding just two survivors from the weekend win over Rotherham United – who shaded the opening 45 minutes, with the recalled Marco Silvestri doing well to turn away a goalbound curler from Jack Byrne just before the break.
United’s best chance by a distance arrived in the opening minute from an unlikely source in the recalled Lewie Coyle.
An electrifying burst led by Marcus Antonsson and Kemar Roofe saw the ball eventually break for the full-back, whose arrowing strike was tipped away superbly by David Raya.
It proved a false dawn with Rovers managing to piece together the better moments, and a far-post header from Liam Feeney almost yielded a sixth-minute breakthrough, his effort flying into the side-netting from Elliott Bennett’s cross.
Stephen Hendrie, cousin of former Leeds and Bradford City winger John, also threatened with a half-volley, which flew just wide.
After making a negligible impression on a makeshift Rovers backline, the second-half onus was very much on Leeds to start making things happen and increase the tempo.
A shot from Roofe that flew wide represented a start, but as with the action before the break, it proved a threatening moment in isolation.
In an attempt to force a break from the banal, Monk threw on Pablo Hernandez just before the hour mark, while his counterpart Owen Coyle played what he hoped would be his trump card by sending on Marvin Emnes.
It was the latter who almost conjured a breakthrough with Silvestri forced to make a double save to deny him and Elliott Bennett in quick succession.
Bennett soon hooked wide as the action suddenly increased with Roofe soon heading straight at Raya.
Leeds, with Wood now on deck, started to become more proactive with a wickedly curling free-kick from Hernandez evading everyone, Raya tipping away the effort in the nick of time.
It was an attempt from Hernandez that yielded the winner, with his fierce drive beaten away by Raya and Johnny-on-the-spot Wood netted a close-range rebound at the second attempt.
It was a scrappy goal to win a scrappy game. But when needs must...
Leeds United: Silvestri; Coyle, Bartley, Cooper, Taylor; O’Kane, Vieira (Hernandez 58); Mowatt (Grimes 83), Phillips, Roofe; Antonsson (Wood 71). Unused substitutes: Green, Ayling, Denton, Dallas.
Blackburn Rovers: Raya; Lowe, Wharton (Nyambe 8), Lenihan, Hendrie; Feeney, Akpan, Byrne, Samuelsen (Mahoney 62); Bennett; Gallagher (Emnes 62). Unused substitutes: Steele, Marshall, Guthrie, Conway.
Referee: D Deadman (Cambridgeshire).