Football: Leeds pay for generosity

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Blackburn. . .3

Leeds. . . . .1

A NAIVETY play, someone called it. Certainly Howard Wilkinson's tactical ploy of pushing forward his two full-backs played straight into the hands and feet of Blackburn's 21-year-old winger Jason Wilcox who scored the first and made the next two for Alan Shearer as Blackburn Rovers moved back up to second in the Premier League, three points behind Norwich.

So halfway through the season and still no joy for Leeds' travelling fans who have not seen their team win away in the League since that blustery April afternoon at Bramall Lane, when they became champions.

The only comfort to take back across the Pennines was the return of David Batty who, after an eight- week injury, was the outstanding player of a confused United. The cold statistic, however, is that the same defence, which by last Christmas had conceded only 17 goals, has now leaked 37.

'People play us now and think they have a chance,' Wilkinson, the Leeds manager, said.

Rovers did not have to be at their best to move back into second place in the table. Leeds already had an odd look about them at kick-off with Mel Sterland back after a nine-month absence and Imre Varadi starting his first full game since September 1990.

Before the new formation had time to settle, they had presented the home side with an early opener. Breaking out of defence, David May clipped a ball over the visitors' attempted offside trap and all Wilcox had to do was run in and slot the ball home.

Leeds responded in some sort of order with a couple of innocuous headers and a shot by Varadi straight at Bobby Mimms, but with that defence - especially at full-back - looking as leaky as a colander, they were living dangerously. If they had produced better final balls Blackburn could easily have increased their lead.

Surprisingly, Leeds equalised when Colin Hendry fouled Lee Chapman three minutes before half-time, Gary McAllister's

23-yard free-kick somehow shooting straight through the wall and past Mimms.

Yet still their back four remained in festive mood, and four minutes later, with all the goodwill in the world, they allowed Wilcox another free 50-yard gallop. This time the youngster unselfishly cut the ball back to Shearer who grabbed his 15th league goal of the season.

The visitors began the second half more optimistically, with a good header from Varadi which Mimms saved acrobatically. Yet any hopes of a revival were dampened on the hour.

Questions must be asked why Leeds had not by then brought on John Newsome for the lumbering Sterland, who looked a sad, lost figure as Wilcox left him stranded him for the umpteenth time to set up Shearer's tap-in second.

With 18 minutes left, Sterland was at last replaced but it had been left too late.

Blackburn: B Mimms; D May, A Wright, M Atkins, C Hendry, K Moran, S Ripley, G Cowans, A Shearer (T Sherwood, 84 min), M Newell, J Wilcox. Subs not used: N Marker, D Collier (gk). Manager: K Dalglish.

Leeds: J Lukic; M Sterland (J Newsome, 72 min), T Dorigo, D Batty, C Fairclough, C Whyte, G Strachan, I Varadi, L Chapman, G McAllister, G Speed. Subs not used: C Shutt, M Day (gk). Manager: H Wilkinson.

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).

Goals: J Wilcox (1-0, 7 min); G McAllister (1-1, 42 min); A Shearer (2-1, 45 min); A Shearer (3-1, 59 min).