David O'Leary's insistence that Harry Kewell needed to build on his wondrous solo goal against Swiss opposition elicited the desired response from the Australian yesterday as Leeds, with generous assistance from the woodwork, squeezed past Blackburn in a rousing Roses match at Ewood Park.
Kewell demonstrated his capacity to claim more mundane goals than Thursday's effort against Grasshopper Zurich by striking twice in eight minutes early in the second half. Leeds looked set for a routine win, but an injury to Olivier Dacourt left them exposed in midfield and Henning Berg's riposte provoked fierce late pressure by Blackburn.
It came to nothing, which meant Leeds closed the gap on the Premiership leaders, Liverpool, to four points, having played a game more. They now face three matches in eight days at Elland Road, against Leicester, Everton and Newcastle, but will do so without another key player. With eight first-choice players already on the treatment table, Alan Smith suspended for a further two matches and the verdict expected this week in the trial of Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate, the dislocated shoulder sustained by Dacourt in what O'Leary described as a "shocking tackle" by Tugay Kerimoglu was a severe blow to Leeds.
The Frenchman will be absent for up to six weeks, and while Seth Johnson can deputise after completing a one-match ban yesterday, their challenge is in danger of being undermined by insufficient squad depth.
In the circumstances, Leeds could do with improving their discipline. They incurred another five yellow cards here, one of which, shown to Danny Mills, puts him out of the Boxing Day visit to Bolton. Not that it takes much to stretch the patience of the Essex referee, Andy D'Urso, to its limit, as Alan Shearer learned a week earlier.
Mr D'Urso later rescinded Shearer's red card, and O'Leary called on him to admit his mistake in cautioning Robbie Fowler . The £11m striker, who showed enhanced sharpness in every respect bar the vital one of finishing, was deemed to have dived when challenged by Berg in the Blackburn area. The Leeds manager, having seen the video replay, hoped D'Urso would be "brave enough to change his mind".
Graeme Souness, the Blackburn manager, claimed his team had "bossed the match" apart from two brief spells. This was overstating the case, for between the header Matt Jansen sent against an upright from Keith Gillespie's cross in the 13th minute and the 18-yard drive which rattled the underside of the visitors' bar five minutes after the break, Nigel Martyn did not make a save.
Ian Harte made one for him, mind you, two minutes before Tugay's effort, clearing off the line when Gillespie seemed certain to score. While Harte otherwise endured a torrid afternoon against the winger, his sometime Republic of Ireland full-back partner, Gary Kelly, made the most of his chance as Bowyer's replacement.
Kelly, edged out at right-back by Danny Mills, has hinted at leaving Leeds to further his World Cup ambitions. Happily for Kewell, he is still putting his considerable lung power and pace at their disposal.
Picking the ball up inside his own half after 55 minutes, when Leeds were struggling to resist Blackburn, Kelly left Craig Short in his wake before cutting the ball back. Fowler, for once, made a positive connection, forcing Brad Friedel to spill the ball.
Before Blackburn could ponder the irony of Friedel's fumble – he had made a stunning one-handed save to keep out Mark Viduka's 43rd-minute header after a slick move involving Kewell and Fowler – Kewell poked in the loose ball. Soon afterwards, Kelly again surged down the right. This time Kewell met his centre with a stooping far-post header – his ninth goal and a perfect response to O'Leary's advice that he had to produce more.
Dacourt, hurt in the build-up, departed in discomfort. However, Leeds, marshalled by Rio Ferdinand, looked to have weathered the storm until Berg lunged at Corrado Grabbi's low cross a split second before Martyn dived for it. Blackburn laid siege to Martyn's goal, but Leeds held firm. "No one can accuse us of under-achieving because we're getting everything we can out of this squad," said O'Leary.
Goals: Kewell (55) 0-1; Kewell (63) 0-2; Berg (83) 1-2.
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-1-1): Friedel 7; Curtis 5 (Grabbi 5, 62), Berg 6, Short 5 (Johansson 5, 62), Neill 6; Gillespie 7, Tugay 7, Mahon 6, Duff 7; Dunn 7; Jansen 6. Substitutes not used: Hughes, Ostenstad, A Kelly (gk).
Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn 6; Mills 6, Duberry 5, Ferdinand 7, Harte 4; G Kelly 7, Batty 8, Dacourt 6 (Wilcox 5, 66), Kewell 6; Fowler 6, Viduka 6. Substitutes not used: Keane, McMaster, Richardson, Robinson (gk).
Referee: A D'Urso (Billericay) 4.
Bookings: Blackburn Rovers: Short, Tugay; Leeds United: Harte, G Kelly, Mills, Batty, Fowler.
Man of the match: Batty.
Attendance: 28,309.Reuse content