Monday, September 03, 2012

Leeds United v Blackburn Rovers: Diouf proving so priceless

Yorkshire Evening Post 3/9/12
By Phil Hay
It is as someone said last week, 11 versus 11 once the battle lines are drawn. and spending £8million on Jordan Rhodes looks less than astute when a defence caves in as Blackburn Rovers’ did at Elland Road.
Blackburn are awash with cash and Leeds United are not, as demonstrated by the last few days of the transfer window, but the playing field was levelled by the club who invested £5,000-a-week in El-Hadji Diouf while Rovers were signing Rhodes for nine times the salary.
Both deals went through in the 48 hours before Saturday’s game and Diouf emerged from one isolated fixture as the better example of value for money. While Rhodes struggled down blind alleys on his debut, Diouf assisted a revival which questioned the wisdom of Steve Kean in devoting so much money to the front end of Blackburn’s team.
Kean’s was one of two suspect defences at Elland Road, both of which leant themselves to an absorbing Championship match. Leeds seemed lost after 27 minutes but gave Blackburn a kicking either side of half-time as poise and confidence changed hands. It took a clever, back-heeled finish from Ruben Rochina – one of Rovers’ substitutes – to nick a draw six minutes from time.
The contest was too engaging for either Kean or Neil Warnock to dwell on defensive mistakes but they wasted no time in setting about referee Neil Swarbrick.
Blackburn’s manager argued that two of United’s three goals were allowed to stand despite infringements by Luciano Becchio. Warnock took issue with almost everything – unsuccessful penalty appeals, the red card Swarbrick refused to show to Mauro Formica and a foul awarded against Tom Lees in the passage of play leading up to Rochina’s 84th-minute equaliser. “It’s disappointing to be denied a win by a decision like that,” he said.
The grievances were shared and so were the points, to the relief of both camps. United had little to cling to after Markus Olsson and Nuno Gomes scored in the opening half hour, punishing weakness and poor communication on the right side of Warnock’s team, but goals from Diouf, Ross McCormack and Becchio followed in the space of 24 minutes as the defensive jitters infected Blackburn. Rovers looked beaten as the minutes ticked away and they owed their point to Rochina’s sense of invention inside United’s box.
Diouf, who agreed a contract with Leeds until January on Saturday, said: “Are we disappointed? Yes, but I’m not a young man any more. This is a good result for both teams.
“We’ve come back from 2-0 down and they’ve come back from 3-2 down. We both get a point.
“It’s the first time we’ve been in this situation this season, two goals down, and the gaffer can be happy. We showed our character.”
Diouf’s performance bordered on a game of two halves; woeful until the 41st minute when his scrambled tap-in cut Blackburn’s lead. His goal and the timing of it were game-changing, rattling Rovers at the end of an easy half for them.
The forward was so poor before his goal that Warnock told him and Luke Varney to swap wings at half-time, moving Diouf to the left and leaving Varney to provide greater protection for right-back Lee Peltier, exposed for Rovers’ first two goals. Diouf thrived in his alternative role and earned his wage in the second half.
“It would have been easy to take him off,” Warnock said, “but I put him on the other side and asked him to contribute. In the second half he was outstanding.”
The need to rearrange United’s team became apparent to Warnock as Blackburn tied Diouf and Peltier in knots.
The former was left trailing in 19th minute when Olsson covered 40 yards on the left wing unopposed and drilled the ball under goalkeeper Paddy Kenny, and Peltier’s failure to follow Olsson’s run eight minutes later was punished as Gomes collected his lay-off and placed a shot into the corner of the net from 20 yards.
Swarbrick had no influence on either goal but his performance soon began to niggle. He booked Formica for diving on the edge of United’s box but declined to caution the midfielder again towards the end of the first half when Formica handled the ball and kicked it away.
A risky challenge by Danny Murphy on McCormack inside Blackburn’s area was also ignored.
The atmosphere darkened until Leeds scored four minutes before half-time.
Diouf tucked a close-range effort away as Blackburn’s defence – by now without the injured Scott Dann and barely improved by his shaky replacement, Grant Hanley – made hard work of clearing deliveries from McCormack and David Norris.
Kean claimed Becchio nudged Blackburn’s keeper, Paul Robinson, in the moments before Diouf drove the ball into the net but Swarbrick saw no foul. Blackburn’s nerve deserted them and Robinson denied Leeds a second goal before half-time by clawing away Diouf’s header with his fingertips.
It was no great reprieve for Kean or his team. Murphy, Blackburn’s experienced midfielder, whipped a volley narrowly wide early in the second half but there was tension in Blackburn’s play.
Rhodes saw nothing of the ball, so often beaten to it by Lees, and Rovers were cut open for a second time in the 56th minute.
Kean pointed again to a push by Becchio in the back of Gael Givet but McCormack played to the whistle, running on to Adam Drury’s long pass and lashing a volley over Robinson.
Ten minutes later, with pressure on Blackburn again, Hanley sliced a clearance towards Becchio whose diving header flew at Robinson with too much power for the keeper to keep it out of his net.
Had a header from Jason Pearce not been disallowed by Swarbrick two minutes later, that would have been that.
But when Morten Gamst Pedersen tangled with Lees on 85 minutes and won a dubious free-kick, forcing Peltier to concede a corner, Rochina received the delivery and controlled it brilliantly, holding off Lees and back-heeling the ball into Kenny’s net.
Even then the chances continued to come. Dickson Etuhu smashed one over Kenny’s bar and Diouf did likewise in the fifth minute of injury-time when Givet drove an attempted clearance into Hanley’s face, causing pandemonium in Blackburn’s box.
“At 2-0 down the fans could really have got on the players’ backs,” Warnock said.
“But instead they encouraged us and the noise at 2-1 was incredible.
“I’ve had good clubs before and Loftus Road and Bramall Lane were hostile environments at times.
“But for every fan here, this club is their life and all they’re bothered about. I’ve never known anything like it.“