Leeds show off a bright new image

Blackburn Rovers 3 Leeds United 4
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The Independent Online
It was only last season when the choice between watching paint dry or Leeds United would have produced a landslide from neutrals in favour of the former. Not any longer, this match crackled with incident.

Seven goals, a penalty when there could have been four and a sending- off; the people who used to take stimulants just to keep themselves awake when watching George Graham's team were making emergency demands for sedatives yesterday. It was a vibrant performance from the visiting team, albeit aided by some idiosyncratic decisions by the referee.

At the end of it Leeds had spectacularly halted a sequence of three successive defeats despite being reduced to 10 men for the final 13 minutes while inflicting the first defeat of the season on Blackburn who missed the opportunity to reclaim the top of the Premiership. It is defensive madness like this from the chasing teams that allows Manchester United to win championships.

"The first 45 minutes took my breath away," Graham said. "Goals were going in at both ends. It was great for the fans but the standard of defending was awful from both teams." The arch conservative then smiled: "I would settle for 4-3 in our favour though next time."

Graham has promised to cast off his team's dowdy image and yesterday his players were as good as his word. Blackburn's defence never looked comfortable against Rod Wallace and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink while Harry Kewell oozed talent on the wing until he got sent off for a second bookable offence over a squabble about where a free-kick should be taken.

It was Kewell who created the first goal after two minutes. He volted over Patrick Valery's lunge to fire over a centre from the left, Gary Kelly headed fiercely downwards and when Tim Flowers could only parry,Wallace bundled it over the line.

Three minutes later it was 2-0, Blackburn's defence criminally allowing Kelly's corner to arrive at Robert Molenaar's feet on the penalty spot. The centre-back looked as surprised as everyone else but he stuck out a boot and volleyed past Flowers.

Blackburn had the bewildered look of concussed men but produced a sucker punch of their own, Kevin Gallacher thundering a shot past Nigel Martyn from 30 yards and, when Chris Sutton converted a contentious penalty after Martin Dahlin had been brought down by Molenaar, it appeared they would get away with their initial carelessness.

If Mr Dunn had seen fit to award penalties for two blatant pushes on Dahlin they probably would have done but Leeds, who were also wondering about the referee's leniency when Colin Hendry brought down Wallace, forged ahead again.

Both goals were similar in that they came from runs across the area from the left. The first was instigated by Kewell and finished off by Wallace who curled a shot round Flowers. The next was converted by David Hopkin after Hasselbaink had drawn the Blackburn back four towards him like a magnet with an exceptional run.

The home team had clawed their way back once and they almost did it again, Lars Bohinen flicking the ball in Dahlin's direction from a prone position. The burly Swedish striker, who gave Molenaar such a torrid time he was substituted at the interval, spun away and took the ball beyond Martyn into the far corner.

Both managers were glad to get their teams in at half-time to reorganise their rearguards and once they had intervened, the match took on the air of normal Premiership fare. Blackburn had the bulk of possession but the closest they came to scoring was when Gallacher fired into the side netting from close range.

Goals: Wallace (3) 0-1; Molenaar (6) 0-2; Gallacher (8) 1-2; Sutton (16 pen) 2-2; Wallace (17) 2-3; Hopkin (23) 2-4; Dahlin (33) 3-4.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Valery (Andersson, 81), Henchoz, Hendry, Kenna; Gallacher, Flitcroft, Bohinen (Sherwood, 72), Wilcox (Duff, 72); Sutton, Dahlin. Substitutes not used: Broomes, Fettis (gk).

Leeds United: (4-4-2): Martyn; Halle, Wetherall, Molenaar (Ribeiro, 45), Robertson; Kelly, Hopkin, Radebe, Kewell; Wallace, Hasselbaink (Lilley, 80). Substitutes not used: Haland, Bowyer, Beeney (gk).

Bookings: Blackburn: Henchoz. Leeds: Robertson, Radebe, Hasselbaink, Hopkin, Molenaar. Sending-off: Leeds: Kewell.

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).

Attendance: 21,956.

Man of the match: Wallace.

Graham delighted by Leeds

George Graham lauded his Leeds side for their performance at Blackburn yesterday, but then criticised the referee, Steve Dunn, for sending off 18-year-old Harry Kewell.

The young Australian midfielder was shown the red card for throwing the ball back to Rovers' defender Patrick Valery after the Frenchman tried to steal a few yards at a free-kick.

"We showed a lot of character in the second half, but overall it was a good performance and a great result," the Leeds manager said. "It was just a shame there were so many bookings. I think that the officials today had a really off day. Especially for the sending off - he's a young lad and I don't think he [the referee] knew he had even booked him. You shouldn't send somebody off for that.''

Rovers' manager, Roy Hodgson, said: "I think we can consider ourselves a little bit unlucky not getting anything out of the game.''