A HOTLY-disputed late penalty from two-goal Jordan Rhodes saw Leeds United go down in thoroughly dispiriting and crushing fashion against ten-man Blackburn Rovers.
The Scottish international, who had cancelled out Souleymane Doukara’s first-half opener with a comedy leveller on 71 minutes, was on hand to send Marco Silvestri the wrong way from the penalty spot two minutes from time after Sam Byram was controversially adjudged by referee Kevin Wright to have tripped former Leeds striker Varney, who had come on as a substitute.
All this coming after Rovers had been reduced to ten men six minutes earlier after ex-United junior Tom Cairney was dismissed, picking up his second booking after a late challenge on Liam Cooper.
It truly was the giveaway of the season.
A game in which Leeds looked full value for three welcome points for seventy minutes was turned on its head with awful defending presenting Rovers with a gift leveller.
Silvestri made a comedy clearance when racing out of goal to clear the danger, bundling into Cooper to present Rhodes with an open goal he couldn’t miss.
Rhodes then provided the decisive contribution a few minutes from time and how Leeds will kick themselves for throwing away the game in criminal fashion as the huge travelling support suffered dismay in this corner of Lancashire for the second time in 12 minutes.
A wall of noise greeted United - whose players were wearing black armbands in memory of reserve goalkeeper Alex Cairns’ younger brother Blake - who tragically died in a car accident in Doncaster last Saturday - approaching the kick-off, with the massive away following packing out the Darwen End and clearly in good voice.
United, unchanged from the side who started against Blackpool and helped instigate a first win in nine matches, grew into proceedings after a quiet opening to construct a meaningful and proficient half of football, which in its own way was every bit as impressive as the goal-laden showing in the first 45 minutes against the Seasiders.
The half saw Leeds isolate the threats of home dangermen Rudy Gestede, with an eye-catching ten goals so far this term, and Rhodes, whose inclusion in the side was the only change from the team who lined up at Brighton ahead of the international break.
At the other end, the visitors gathered steam as the half progressed to deliver an excellent away performance in the first period, with the hosts’ only potent outlet being down the left where Ben Marshall caused a fair few problems.
Blackburn’s tempo was decent early on, but Leeds managed to get the whip hand, with a incisive interchange between ex-Rovers full-back Stephen Warnock and Adryan down the left ending in the latter looking like being through on goal for a split-second, but loan keeper Jason Steele raced out to gather, albeit at the second attempt, to thwart the Brazilian play-maker.
Marshall then came to the party for the first time, running sixty yards after Leeds were caught upfield before firing off beam.
A more pertinent moment arrived 17 minutes in when Marshall dropped his shoulder and gave Sam Byram the slip down the left before sending over a dangerous cross with United failed to clear with the ball falling to Cairney, whose curler clipped the top of the bar with Marco Silvestri beaten.
United regathered their composure and started the pass the ball around brightly with plenty of intent and movement, without creating the clear-cut chance they were seeking to manufacture.
Marshall was again afforded space down the left and needed no second invitation to cut inside before seeing his well-struck shot parried by Silvestri and soon after, Adryan received a caution for a handball offence.
The attacking midfielder then produced a more accomplished moment and it took a top-drawer save from Steele, sent off playing for parent club Middlesbrough at Elland Road almost exactly 12 months to the day, to deny him a first goal for United.
Lovely play saw Alex Mowatt tee up Adryan, who unleashed a quality curler which was seemingly destined for the top corner and a picture-book opener, only for Steele to pull off a fantastic one-handed parry to claw away the attempt.
But soon after, Steele was picking the ball out of the net with Adryan this time playing a key role in the build-up.
Panic set in following his corner on the left, which wasn’t cleared and Doukara seized on the commotion to fire in an angled shot from the edge of the eight-yard box, which went in off the far post, with Steele unsighted due to several home defenders being in front of him.
The goal was the cue to pandemonium among the 6,839 visiting contingent, whose day out was starting to become even more enriching
Jason Pearce then bundled a header wide with Rovers again caught a little short from an Adryan corner before an unmarked Gestede headed over after Marshall’s free-kick, ahead of a linesman’s flag halting proceedings.
Away punters were soon reflecting on an impressive half with the shrill of the half-time whistle and Leeds had the first sniff on the resumption with Lewis Cook firing at Steele after a probing move moments into the second period.
Quite clearly, the questions were all Blackburn’s with Leeds good value for their lead, with Neil Redfearn no doubt cajoling them to carry on where they left off.
The home fans were increasingly becoming frustrated and it took some initiative from Grant Hanley, who attempted to charge forward, to get them going, with it taking some excellent defending from Warnock to repel the danger.
It was the prelude to a meaningful spell from Rovers, finally giving the home fans something to feed off, but Leeds, to their credit, coped well enough and maintained their discipline with Mowatt firing wide in a salvo at the other end, attacking their massed ranks in the Darwen End.
But United momentarily switched off just before the hour with Gestede winning a header following a free-kick on the left to nod the ball in the direction of the hitherto anonymous Rhodes, whose fierce shot at the near post was beaten away by SIlvestri in the sort of moment the ex-Huddersfield marksman has been renowned for throughout his career.
Despite more possession for the hosts, Leeds were intent to break in numbers once the opportunity arose, although a pattern had been set as such with Rovers seeing a lot more of the ball - but without significantly hurting the visitors.
Rovers threw Jordan Tunnicliffe into the fray for Lee Williamson on 65 minutes and two minutes later, top-scorer Gestede were presented with a good opportunity after being picked out by Rhodes, but his volley when well placed lacked direction and flew wide.
Given their inability to piece together a polished ninety minutes for most of this season, it represented a test for Leeds.
In the final analysis, they were found wanting with Rovers - and more particularly Rhodes - presented with an early Christmas gift he could scarcely believe on 71 minutes.
Rhodes chased a throughball with Cooper with Silvestri racing out of goal to seemingly clear the danger, but the Italian keeper fatally showed hesitancy in a real comedy moment and bundled the Leeds defender instead of putting the ball into orbit.
The beneficiary was Rhodes, who simply couldn’t believe his luck when presented with an open goal and he almost apologetically tapped in his sixth goal of the season and first at Ewood since September 13.
It was a moment to compete with the second-half comedy concession at Cardiff, with Rovers suddenly having their tails up.
Hanley saw his header go over before ex-United striker Varney was thrown on for Gestede, the cue for some unflattering songs from the Leeds contingent.
Varney immediately set about making a nuisance of himself and soon flicked a header wide before Cooper showed his mettle to make a key clearance before Pearce produced another timely block following good play from Marshall as Rovers upped the ante.
Moments later, play switched to the other end with Leeds producing a piercing move with Adryan sending Mirco Antenucci clear and he saw his low shot cannon off the outside of the post.
Leeds, who were looking increasing panicky at times in the second period, were then handed a boost eight minutes from time when Cairney was dismissed, with the away fans soon letting out a rousing chant of ‘Attack, attack.’
There was another goal in the game, but unfortunately, it went the way of Blackburn, with Byram adjudged to have sent Varney tumbling after seeming to stick out a leg, with the replay indicating it was a soft award with contact looking minimal.
Rhodes kept his composure to send Steele the wrong way, with it somehow being Rovers day, on another afternoon when Leeds game management let them down badly.
Blackburn: Steele; Baptiste, Hanley, Duffy, Olsson; Cairney, Williamson (Tunnicliffe 65), Evans (Taylor 89), Marshall; Gestede (Varney 74), Rhodes. Substitutes not used: Eastwood, Henley, Dunn, Conway.
Leeds United: Silvestri; Byram, Pearce, Cooper, Warnock; Cook (Sharp 89), Bianchi (Bellusci 76); Mowatt, Adryan, Doukara; Antenucci. Substitutes not used: S Taylor, Berardi, Austin, Tonge, Dawson.
Attendance: 21,432 (6,839 Leeds fans).
Referee: K Wright (Cambridgeshire).