Leeds United 0 Blackburn Rovers 1: Sammie Szmodics bursts Elland Road's balloon to leave Whites fretting

It was like someone had popped a balloon after 82 minutes of Leeds United's Championship match against Blackburn Rovers.

It had been a game of defence versus milky attack, with Junior Firpo's effort against a post the nearest the home side had come to scoring in a game they knew they really could have done with drawing, although Patrick Bamford had a strong claim for a very late penalty too.

As it was, they missed out even on the point that would have taken them top of the Championship at least for a couple of hours and suffered their first home defeat of the season.

What awful timing.

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Not that Leeds fans had any interest, but it was a terrible result for relegation-threatened Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield Town, nudging Rovers up to 49 poiints, six ahead.

The frustration – with Leeds' toothlessness, Blackburn's ruthlessness and Sheffield referee James Bell's softness – was growing when Aynsley Pears hoofed a goalkick downfield, Sam Gallagher heading the ball on, Thyrys Dolan turning brilliantly and threading a ball which a midfielder of Sammie Szmodics' goalscoring pedigree was never likely to miss.

Anyone has watched a fair amount of football would have known it was coming but still it stunned the ground into silence.

The two sides played the game with markedly different intentions.

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UNDER PRESSURE: Harry Pickering plays close attention to Willy Gnonto of Leeds UnitedUNDER PRESSURE: Harry Pickering plays close attention to Willy Gnonto of Leeds United
UNDER PRESSURE: Harry Pickering plays close attention to Willy Gnonto of Leeds United

Leeds, with three changes to their XI, started at a good tempo and bossed the ball. Relegation-threatened Blackburn Rovers laid out in a 3-4-1-2 with their split strikers, Dolan and Gallagher latching onto the home full-backs when they went forward, which was most of the time.

They were unafraid of the dark arts, either, Pears taking the mickey out of the six-second rule which is nothing more than a waste of rulebook ink just 11 minutes – he had already dawdled over a free-kick – and Leeds ankles taking plenty of punishment. So did Ethan Ampadu's face when Gallagher eased more than threw his elbow into it.

For Bell to only add a minute to the first half was puzzling. Even the six tacked onto the second was generous, as was waiting 85 minutes to make the only booking for time-wasting – to Pears. So to top it off by not penalising a penalty-area push on Bamford just confirmed that he would do well to give Leeds a wide berth for while.

If Bell did not help Leeds, neither did they.

IN THE THICK OF IT: Georginio Rutter tackles Blackburn Rovers' Joseph Rankin-CostelloIN THE THICK OF IT: Georginio Rutter tackles Blackburn Rovers' Joseph Rankin-Costello
IN THE THICK OF IT: Georginio Rutter tackles Blackburn Rovers' Joseph Rankin-Costello

Pears made his first save of note in the ninth minute, punching away a Crysencio Summerville free-kick from a tight angle. then stretching to keep out Willy Gnonto's follow-up.

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Ampadu headed wide a 26th-minute free-kick headed in by the impressive Connor Roberts after a Gallagher foul on Georginio Rutter 30 yards out.

Ilia Gruev forced a save from a short corner won when the recalled Joel Piroe had miskicked in the build but kept the ball and his composure well enough to spread it out to Junior Firpo.

When Pears saved to keep out Roberts on the half-hour it felt like a goal was coming. Summerville shot wide when off balance.

FOND FAREWELL: Stuart Dallas does a lap of the Elland Road pitch at half-time during his first game after retiring through injuryFOND FAREWELL: Stuart Dallas does a lap of the Elland Road pitch at half-time during his first game after retiring through injury
FOND FAREWELL: Stuart Dallas does a lap of the Elland Road pitch at half-time during his first game after retiring through injury

But Blackburn gave Leeds a reminder they were in this game too.

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Gruev conceded a corner after good work by Blackburn's front two on the counter attack in the 36th minute and when Bell did well to pull the play back as Leeds failed to take the advantage he offered them, they did the same from the set piece. Ripley punched it away and Leeds gave it away, allowing Szmodics to force a good Illan Meslier save as Rovers broke.

It was the visitors' only shot of the half, but Leeds had only been able to put one more on target themselves.

The second half followed all the same patterns, much to the frustration of Elland Road.

As the tension rose, Leeds got scrappy, the otherwise impressive Roberts overhitting his cross after being released by a backheel from Gnonto – also very good in both directions.

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Leeds were at least able to keep the ball in Blackburn's half, Gruev frcing a save.

Gnonto lifted the crowd with a shot just wide, then had another block.

But the worry was always there at the other end, never more so than when Meslier's sloppy throw picked out Dolan and Joe-Rankin-Costello shot narrowly wide.

In the 64th minute a Szmodics cross came agonisingly close to being tapped in by either Gallagher or Dolan, both yards from goal.

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When Rutter had a shot saved, it bounced off Gnonto and back ibnto Pears' hands. It felt like it was going to be one of those days, especially when a crouching Firpo contorted his body to direct a centre onto the woodwork and Dan James fired just wide of the opposite post with a cross-shot Gnonto very nearly slid onto.

James was one of three substitutes introduced in the 68th minute to try to liven things up but another, Patrick Bamford, headed Gnonto's delivery over the bar in the 76th minute.

He would reciredt a Firpo cross at Pears, then put another wide, complaining he was being fouled, as Leeds tried in vain to respond to Szmodics' sucker-punch.

When Sam Byram lined up a shot in the second minute of added time, the thud as fellow substitute Ben Chrisene threw himself in the line of fire echoed around.

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Summerville flashed a cross through a minute later which was begging for a touch but left disappointed.

Bamford's next penalty appeal, in the sixth added minute, had far more merit, but his over-exaggerated response to Callum Brittain's push perhaps cost him.

Leeds coach Christopher John was sent off for his protest.

Leeds have gone cold at just the wrong time. Fortunately for them, Leicester City have too but it was absolutely no consolation to the faithful who trudged home worrying their club might be on the verge of messing up automatic promotion.

Leeds United: Meslier; Roberts (Byram 68), Rodon, Ampadu, Firpo (Anthony 89); Gruev (Bamford 68), Gray; Gnonto (Joseph 80), Rutter (James 68); Summerville; Piroe.

Unused substitutes: Darlow, Cooper, Kamara, Gelhardt.

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Blackburn Rovers: Pears; Carter, Hyam, Wharton (McFadzean HT); Brittain, Tronstad, Rankin-Costello, Pickering; Szmodics (Telalovic 90+5); Dolan (Chrisene 85), Gallagher.

Unused substitutes: Wahlstedt, Koumetio, Markanday, Buckley, Gilsenan, Garrett.

Referee: J Bell (Sheffield).

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