THE fat lady is not quite ready to clear her throat and serenade the end of Leeds United’s play-off quest.
Two goals in the space of six second-half minutes from David Norris and Steven Morison – his first for the club after being assigned to fill the considerable shooting boots vacated by Luciano Becchio – provided United and manager Neil Warnock with some welcome respite after a previously torrid February.
The result, which moved Leeds up four places to ninth spot – six points behind sixth-placed Middlesbrough with a game in hand – keeps their flickering top-six hopes just about alive ahead of a potentially definitive period of fixtures against Blackburn Rovers, Millwall, Leicester City and Crystal Palace.
Many of United’s previous home Championship victories have been perfunctory as opposed to polished, but few of the home supporters in a more-than-healthy midweek crowd of 25,532 – many of whom took advantage of a cut-price ticket offer – could complain at being short-changed.
As a public relations exercise to get back onside with fans – acutely embarrassed and their pride badly dented by Sunday’s mauling at Manchester City which was watched by a national audience – this represented a good start.
Granted, it did not quite make up for the infamous 5-0 home aberration at home to the Seasiders in November 2011, but it did help start to vanquish some of the memories of that desperate episode for those among the United contingent who were also present last night.
Much had been made ahead of the game of Warnock’s appeal for bitterly frustrated United fans to get behind the team and spare them – and himself – from their ire for the third match running.
However, the United manager will have been savvy enough to appreciate it was a two-way street with his side needing to start off on the front foot to quell any potential early restlessness.
Warnock was answered in the affirmative in a positive first period and the intent continued after the interval when United were afforded their deserved rewards by way of two goals.
After two torrid away-days at the Riverside Stadium and the Etihad Stadium, when he stood on the touchline and copped plenty from Whites supporters, the 64-year-old had a much more agreeable evening and was spared the catcalls.
Fans instead reserved their berating for new Blackpool chief and ex-Manchester United midfielder Paul Ince and warmed to the hosts’ efforts, with the Whites chief even afforded a brief chorus of ‘Warnock, give us a wave’ from fans in the South Stand in the second half.
Cajoled to ‘go for it’ by Warnock, United followed the advice to the letter in the opening 45 minutes with the only thing lacking being a goal.
An early advantage almost arrived when Morison dispossessed the dithering Kirk Broadfoot and ran towards goal before seeing his effort from a narrow angle blocked by a combination of Matt Gilks and Chris Cathcart.
This set the tone with Luke Varney, previously on loan at Blackpool, then seeing his point-blank header blocked by Gilks after an incisive cross from Ross McCormack.
Blackpool’s threat was out wide in the shape of 17-goal Thomas Ince and Matt Phillips, but aside from a cross-shot from the latter in the opening 20 minutes, United kept a lid on the pair with central midfielders Barry Ferguson and Ludovic Sylvestre, who enjoyed the freedom of the park back in November 2011, also decidedly muted. Varney, outstanding in a first period which just lacked a goal, then glanced a header straight at Gilks before playing a pivotal part in United’s best chance of the first period on the half hour.
His teasing cross was parried by Gilks, stranded well out of his goal, with Morison’s clever back heel setting up McCormack, whose low shot yielded an improvised block by the legs of the visiting goalkeeper.
The Tangerines, too, fired a double-warning with Ince shooting into the side-netting before Sylvestre’s long-range shot was turned away smartly by Paddy Kenny, also impressive in making a great reaction save to deny Phillips just before the break.
United’s proficiency at creating chances continued on the restart, but unfortunately so did the first-half theme, especially for Varney, who fired wide from an acute angle after Norris’s lofted pass.
Thankfully, respite was provided, thanks to an emphatic low drive from Norris, who converted after McCormack’s corner was only half-cleared 12 minutes after the break.
Gary Taylor-Fletcher’s outstretched leg just failed to meet Phillips’s cross before the hosts were handed a two-goal buffer on 63 minutes.
Sam Byram’s cross was nodded into the box by Norris with ex-United defender Stephen Crainey diverting the loose ball across the box. Alex Baptiste’s abject failure to react let in Morison, who kept his cool to steer the ball high past Gilks for his first competitive goal since December.
With their spirits broken by that strike, it was pretty much all over bar the shouting after that with United playing out the game in comparative comfort with their efforts at the final whistle drawing warm applause from the home fans, who acknowledged their best Championship performance at Elland Road for a good while.
Leeds United: Kenny; Byram, Lees, Peltier, Warnock; Green, Tonge (Brown 84), Norris (Pearce 90), Varney; McCormack, Morison. Unused substitutes: Ashdown, White, Diouf, Habibou, Hall.
Blackpool: Gilks; Baptiste, Broadfoot, Cathcart, Crainey; Sylvestre (Derbyshire 74), Ferguson, Osbourne; Ince, Taylor-Fletcher (Delfouneso 71), Phillips. Unused substitutes: Wabara, Eardley, Basham, Halstead, Angel.
Referee: C Boyeson (East Yorkshire).