Two goals in 20 seconds from Matt Smith and Rudy Austin could not save Leeds United from another bad defeat in front of their home fans as they lost 4-2 to Reading.
In their must-win game if they were to have any chance of reaching the play-offs the Whites trailed 1-0 to a giveaway goal at half-time then fell apart again to concede three goals in eight minutes early in the second period.
At least they made a fight of it this time with substitute Smith scoring with possibly his first touch of the ball and Austin netting with a blockbuster of a shot from distance straight from the restart.
They then pressed for more goals with Smith in particular going close, but the damage had been done and there was no unlikely comeback, leaving Leeds with little to play for in the rest of the season apart from trying to avoid getting dragged into a relegation battle.
After the 5-1 debacle against Bolton on Saturday manager Brian McDermott reverted back to a variation of the failed wingbacks system and made five changes with Jason Pearce, Sam Byram, Danny Pugh, Marius Zaliukas and Alex Mowatt restored to the starting line-up.
The game kicked off 30 minutes late due to big delays on the M62 preventing players, officials and fans arriving on time. The delay maybe affected both teams as there was little goalmouth action early on.
The only efforts for Leeds came from long range shots by Austin and Connor Wickham before Reading went ahead out of the blue on 25 minutes.
After poor passes by Luke Murphy and Zaliukas saw the ball go loose defender Pearce left it for onrushing keeper Jack Butland when it would have been easier for him to clear and did not seem to realise that Garath McCleary was behind him.
Butland did not get there and it was easy for the Reading winger to virtually walk the ball into the empty net.
United’s reaction to conceding was poor. They struggled to string any passes together and although Austin and Alex Mowatt got headers in they rarely threatened to score.
It was a relief that they were only one down at the break, but within three minutes of the restart they were 3-0 behind as Royston Drenthe smacked in a fine free-kick from the edge of the box then Nick Blackman was left unmarked to head home a cross at the far post.
Worse was to come as Hal Robson-Kanu outmuscled Zaliukas before firing past Butland to make it 4-0 at this stage it looked like the floodgates had really opened.
McDermott responded by hauling Zaliukas off and changing tactics yet again with the tall Smith put on up front in a new three-man attack.
It worked within three minutes as Pearce nodded down an Austin cross and Smith reacted best to score his tenth goal of the season from close range.
Leeds won the ball back from the restart, Austin drove forward and unleashed a superb swerving shot from 30 yards out that beat Reading keeper Alex McCarthy and had home fans dreaming of an impossible comeback.
Suddenly there was more purpose to Leeds’ play and Smith headed a good chance wide from Murphy’s cross.
Ross McCormack volleyed another opportunity over from close range and another shot from distance by Austin was saved by McCarthy, but the visitors held on to complete their victory.
Defeat heaped more pressure on manager McDermott, but he pleaded for more time after the game.
He said: I’ve talked a bit about the last 10 years and the cycle of events here. I’m basically trying to break that cycle of events where you get another manager, it starts okay and then suddenly things aren’t going well.
“Then you get another manager, then another manager and that seems to be how it’s been over a period of time.
“That’s the cycle I would like to break.
“I’ve said that from the start and I understand it’s a results business we’re in, but it’s different here. We’ve had no stability over a long period of time. We’re in a difficult period which we need to get through.
“It would help if the manager knew about the ownership and who the owner was going to be – and if we could have conversations about that going into the summer. Of course that would be very, very helpful.”
Leeds United 2
(Smith 63, Austin 64)
(McCleary 25, Drenthe 47, Blackman 48, Robson-Kanu 55)
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Sky Bet Championship
Leeds: Butland; Lees, Zaliukas (Smith 60), Pearce; Byram, Murphy, Mowatt, Austin, Pugh; McCormack, Wickham.
Reading: McCarthy; Gunter, Pearce, Gorkss, Obita; McCleary (Blackman 39), Akpan, Guthrie, McAnuff; Drenthe (Hector 78), Robson-Kanu (Cummings 85).
Referee: Oliver Langford.