Leeds came to London, not their happiest hunting ground in recent years, yet on this occasion left with the spoils. A second half demolition job if ever there was one, Kemar Roofe doing the damage with some clinical finishing to earn himself the match ball.
A prodigious talent in his early Oxford United days, Roofe has blown hot and cold since his big money move to Leeds but here he was red hot. He could so easily have scored just before half time when put clear only for a sensational last ditch tackle by Rangers’ Jake Bidwell to deny him. Yet there was no stopping him or Leeds after the break as they tore Rangers apart.
Samuel Saiz, Ezgjan Aloiski and RonaldoViera commanded the middle of the park and Roofe applied the finishes, first a towering header, second a close range volley and, with the clock ticking down, a low drilled shot following a lightning break which found the back of the net via a deflection.
Rangers had only scored moments earlier as the clock struck 90 minutes and memories came flooding back of their last home match against Brentford barely two weeks ago, when they scored two goals in injury time to achieve the most unlikely of draws. But lighting rarely strikes twice.
Most of the Rangers’ fans were still in their seats, as their passionate manager Ian Holloway would have demanded and as the fourth official’s board was being hoisted into the air, they witnessed one of the most bizarre goals they are ever likely to see. Leeds had headed a corner clear as far as Pawel Wszolek, Rangers rearmost player, who hopefully punted the ball skywards back into the penalty area yet the bounce of the ball deceived Leeds keeper, Felix Weidwald, looping over his head and despite his best scrambling efforts he could not prevent the ball crossing the goal line.
A lifeline for Rangers ? They won another free kick. The big men were up, including both of their returning centre backs, Nedum Onuoha and Grant Hall. Could Rangers get out of jail again? Alas for them and their hopeful supporters it was not to be. Leeds cleared the corner, broke at pace and Roofe did the rest. 3–1. Game over and a well deserved victory for the visitors for a thoroughly professional and clinical second half performance.
Yet how different it could have been if the history books were to be relied upon for predicting the future. Leeds had not beaten Rangers for 10 previous matches beteeen the two clubs, indeed not since a glorious sun drenched spring day back in May 2011 when the FA decided Rangers were not guilty of malpractice with the signing of Alejandro Faurlin and they were duly confirmed Champions of the Championship. Leeds won that match 2-1, but it had the feeling of a dead rubber. Rangers were in celebratory party mode on that occasion, the result of the match being largely immaterial to the bigger picture. Post match Rangers’ captain, Adel Taarabt, was handed the trophy with Neil Warnock taking the managerial plaudits.
How things have changed for Rangers. How they could do with an Adel Taarabt. Some might say even a Neil Warnock. They are now struggling badly without a win since the end of October and suddenly find themselves teetering just above the relegation zone. Yet for Warnock he is lauding it in the higher reaches of the league, currently in second place with his resurgent Cardiff team.
Rangers deserved nothing from this match. The game was in the balance after a scrappy first half, yet Rangers seemed far too reliant on long high balls to the ex Leeds man, Matt Smith whereas they looked far more effective when playing through the midfield of Massimo Luongo, Luke Freeman and Ilias Chair. When they went behind, their heads visibly dropped, only Freeman demanded the ball and they looked like a team shorn of confidence. Substitutions made little impact and they lost all semblance of shape, with an absence of width and they really did not look like scoring, bar the extraordinary.
Ultimately they caved in badly to Roofe and his fellow demolition men. The noisy Leeds supporters will have enjoyed their trip home and, maybe a drink or two en route. Not surprising in the slightest but in the context of an amusing tannoy announcement advising the crowd that the Leeds supporters would not be permitted alcohol in the half time break, they must have been gasping for a beer come full time. It would have tasted good too, sweet even. The Rangers fans had predictably taunted them with reference to them ‘not drinking anymore’ but the Leeds supporters had the last laugh and no doubt the last beer too.