It could have been 10 ... Rovers taken apart at the home of division’s top scorers as revival comes to abrupt end
THERE had been just three goals scored in the previous four games since these two teams renewed acquaintances after a gap of over 50 years in the 2007-08 season.
Saturday’s game produced seven and that figure could easily have been doubled but for the efforts of young Rovers keeper Gary Woods and some poor finishing by the promotion-chasing home side, who nevertheless bagged their highest tally of the campaign.
Finishing apart, however, there was little for Leeds boss Simon Grayson to be unhappy with as his side restored the normal pecking order with a dominant attacking display.
But it is back to the drawing board for the Rovers management after the seeing their three-match unbeaten record - their best sequence of results this year - come to a grinding halt at Elland Road.
They were perhaps unlucky to catch Leeds, the division’s top scorers, on the top of their game going forward. Had the quality of their finishing matched that of their build-up play - especially in the first half - then Rovers would have been dead and buried long before half-time.
Elland Road has not seen such a one-sided first half all season and Rovers must have been pinching themselves as they walked off at the interval level at one goal apiece. They couldn’t have had any complaints had they been four or five down.
Rovers simply had no answer to the wing wizardry of Robert Snodgrass and Max Gradel, leading scorer Luciano Becchio and midfielders Jonny Howson, Bradley Johnson and Neil Kilkenny.
Leeds took the lead on 12 minutes with the first of Ivorian Gradel’s brace - a sweetly-struck 20-yarder - during a time when Rovers were down to ten men due to centre-back George Friend being off having a cut eye stitched.
It was all Leeds for the rest of the half with the Rovers back four having to work overtime to keep them out.
“I thought that they were massively on top in the first half and we were lucky to go in level,” said right-back Sam Hird, arguably the pick of the back four.
Most of Rovers’ attempts on goal had been from outside the area and Leeds keeper Kasper Schmeichel had not not been unduly troubled until having to save from Billy Sharp in stoppage time after he had been set up by John Oster.
Schmeichel could only parry Sharp’s shot and was beaten at the second attempt by the striker’s angled effort.
Leeds were quickly out of their blocks after the break, but it was Rovers who drew first blood.
Franck Moussa stunned the home fans after getting on the end of Dean Shiels’ header to beat the keeper to make it 2-1 on 49 minutes.
But no sooner had the cheers of the 2,000 or so Doncaster fans died down than Leeds were back on level terms.
Howson robbed Rovers skipper Brian Stock of the ball about 35 yards out and ran on before beating Woods from just outside the area.
“When we got the second goal I thought that if we could keep it solid that we could nick a win, but it wasn’t to be.” said Hird, one of five players in the Rovers squad with previous connections to Leeds.
“We defended poorly for their goals and got punished. There was some good last-ditch defending but individual errors cost us the game.
“We’ve been punished by a team who go forward and attack and get goals and that’s why they’re where they are in the league.”
Rovers were more in the game than in the first half, but Leeds still carried the biggest goal threat and after going close to regaining the lead on several occasions they got their noses in front again on 74 minutes.
Leigh Bromby got on the end of a deep cross by Snodgrass and headed on for Becchio to score.
There always looked to be more goals in the United tank, and so it proved.
Gradel beat Woods at the second attempt on 82 minutes after being set up by Snodgrass
Woods was beaten again, this time by Howson’s 90th-minute shot from the edge of the area, but the former Manchester United junior was one of the few to emerge with credit.
“It’s my job to try and keep the ball out of the net,” he said reflecting on another performance which bodes well for his future.
“Obviously they’ve scored five but I’m hoping to have done enough to play against Coventry on Tuesday.”
Woods deservedly kept his place in the team following an impressive showing at Pride Park in midweek despite the arrival of Ben Alnwick on loan from Spurs.
“I’d have been disappointed to have been dropped to the bench, but that is the gaffer’s decision at the end of the day,” he told The Star. “All I can do is the best for me and the rest of the team.
“Naturally we are disappointed to lose after getting ahead early in the second half but it didn’t help conceding a cheap equaliser almost straight away.
“If we had held them out a bit longer they would have thrown everything at us and I think that we could have caught them on the break. But the goal gave Leeds, and the crowd, a lift and we were on the back foot again straight away. Obviously when you come to a place like Elland Road you expect the home side to be on top for part of the game. The likes of Gradel and Snodgrass can cause any team problems and they were on form today.”
A disappointing result for Rovers in the end, but they will know that it could have been much worse.
They can also take some consolation from the fact that both James Coppinger and James Hayter made a return to action after injury - both coming off the bench in the second half - and that the injury list is now down getting to more manageable proportions.
THEY could have been out of sight by half-time, but they weren’t.
We managed to stay in the game by making last-ditch tackles and people making blocks and keeper Gary Woods making a couple of good saves.
But they dominated possession and key areas of the pitch. We didn’t make the best of decisions off the ball.