Having started their season with a 5-1 walloping of Wolverhampton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers are now in grave danger of finishing in the Premiership's equivalent of Davey Jones' locker, with Dave Jones' team. Graeme Souness's side are not so much treading water as sinking fast in the lower reaches of the top-flight. After the 4-0 "mullering" (to quote their manager) they suffered at Anfield last Sunday, Blackburn sank to their tenth home defeat of the season yesterday and find themselves level on points with Leeds, with just six games left in which to grasp a lifeline.
Rovers have lost three in a row now and, after their trip to Loftus Road to face Fulham tomorrow night, they play Leicester at Ewood Park in another relegation cruncher next Saturday. Souness's men have not won at home since 29 November, the same day that Leeds last tasted victory away from Elland Road until yesterday.
In contrast to their cross-Pennine rivals, Leeds are on the up, with three wins in four matches. They were the better side from start to finish yesterday and could afford the luxury concession of an injury time goal to Craig Short. The points were already in the bag, courtesy of a second minute header by Steve Caldwell and an 89th-minute strike by Mark Viduka.
"We've given ourselves an opportunity," Eddie Gray, Leeds's caretaker manager, said. "We've got to build on what we've done today. We've got Everton at home on Tuesday. That's all that concerns me. We've got to make sure that Elland Road is a fortress."
Unfortunately for Souness, Ewood Park has become more of a Wendy House. "We're going to have to win a couple games away from home now," the Blackburn manager said. "I've got no magic pill, but I've got a lot of players willing to roll their sleeves up. Our quality today might not have been up to scratch but I couldn't fault any of my players for effort."
Souness could fault his side for getting caught cold at the start. They were behind from the 84th second, to a goal fashioned by an Arsenal player and finished by an employee of Newcastle United. Jermaine Pennant did the initial damage with a 50-yard run on the right and then fed a short corner to Gary Kelly, who crossed for the unmarked Caldwell to head in his first goal for Leeds. The Scottish international centre-half is on loan from Newcastle until the end of the season, having reportedly become tired of Sir Bobby Robson referring to him as "Gary". Gary Caldwell has since moved on from Newcastle to Hibernian and his elder brother will have made a popular name for himself in West Yorkshire with such a vital goal.
Having picked up where they had left off with Alan Smith's late winner against Leicester on Monday night, Leeds proceeded to play with the greater assurance. Indeed, it was a moment of indecision on the part of Lorenzo Amoruso that presented Leeds with a chance to make it 2-0 seven minutes later. The big Italian's hesitation allowed Smith to control an up-field punt from Paul Robinson and unleash a dipping 35-yard shot that Brad Friedel did well to tip over his crossbar.
It was Robinson's only meaningful touch in the opening quarter. Blackburn were not short of endeavour but were found sorely wanting in the creative department. Andy Cole and Jon Stead endured a frustrating time up front, starved of possession, let alone chances. Stead did get a rare sight of goal before the break, though, shooting on the turn from the edge of the Leeds penalty area, an effort Robinson gathered with little difficulty.
A desperate remedy was required by Blackburn and Souness started the second half with three front-line attackers, sending on Paul Gallagher in place of Steven Reid. It had little effect, though. Rovers continued to huff, puff and splutter; Leeds continued to threaten with their every move.
Gray's side ought to have been out of touch long before the closing stages. Just before the hour mark Smith was allowed to charge through the middle before slipping a pass to James Milner, whose left-foot drive smacked off the underside of Friedel's bar. And there was another close call for Rovers seven minutes later, when Amoruso stumbled while in possession and Viduka steered a shot into the arms of Friedel. It might have been different had Robinson not saved a Cole snap-shot in the 87th minute, but Pennant proceeded to race up the right flank and deliver a low cross that Viduka buried at the far post, after a botched attempted flick-in by Smith.
Three minutes into injury time Gallagher hoisted a free-kick from wide on the right and Short applied the headed scoring touch in the goalmouth. For Souness and Rovers, though, it came as no consolation. They are sinking at a fair rate of knots.
Blackburn Rovers 1
Leeds United 2
Caldwell 2, Viduka 89
Half-time: 0-1 Attendance: 26,611Reuse content