Leeds United 2, Blackpool 0
Paul Ince’s return to the dug out with Blackpool tonight was spoiled by a Leeds United side who emerged from a period of managerial confusion themselves to breathe life into their previously dying play-off hopes.
Former England midfielder Ince made the Seasiders his sixth club on Monday when, after a long search, he accepted chairman Karl Oyston’s offer to replace Michael Appleton, and a trip to an out-of-form Leeds looked the perfect loosener for the 45-year-old.
The Whites had not won in February and were on the verge of looking down rather than up - all while manager Neil Warnock was responding to fans’ calls to quit by saying he would leave now if asked rather than abiding by his planned departure date at the end of the season.
But the 64-year-old proved there was life left in him as he galvanised his men to produce their best performance in months, with David Norris and Steve Morison scoring second-half goals that were due reward for a dominant performance.
A top-six finish in the npower Championship still looks ambitious, with Leeds six points off the play-offs with a game in hand.
But their odds are better than Blackpool, who are five points above the bottom three with two wins in 11.
With Leeds owners GFH Capital slashing prices to welcome back disenchanted fans, the Whites chose a good night to look in rude health.
They managed to stifle a Blackpool team who relied heavily on Ince’s son Thomas and Matt Phillips for creativity and were rarely in the contest as United started as they continued, albeit with some errant finishing.
Former Blackpool striker Luke Varney was twice the guilty party, mis-hitting wide after a Morison cross and then heading straight at Matt Gilks from six yards when he had the majority of the goal to aim at after Ross McCormack’s cross.
McCormack himself was not blameless as he could not get his feet sorted after Morison got to the byline and beat Gilks to tee up a free shot from close range, while Norris - making his 400th league appearance - was shut down by a brilliant Stephen Crainey block.
Blackpool tried to rally through two Phillips efforts that Paddy Kenny dealt with, while at the other end Leeds continued to squander chances, with McCormack again culpable.
When Gilks failed to push away a Varney cross, Morison unselfishly rolled the ball into the striker’s path but, even with a half-empty goal to aim at, he found the sprawling body of his fellow Scotland international.
Blackpool’s response to that was at last a serious one, Kenny at his best to keep out Ludovic Sylvestre’s 30-yard effort and then Phillips from closer in, but the common order of play resumed in the second half as Varney skewed wide from close in, clipping the post as he did so.
A goal had been coming, though, and when it arrived in the 57th minute, even the most ardent Blackpool fan could deny it was deserved, as Norris comprehensively cracked in a right-footed shot from the edge of the box after Varney’s cross fell to him via the back of Tom Lees’ head.
Blackpool scarcely had time to react and three minutes later they handed Leeds another, with Morison the grateful recipient of a first strike since leaving Norwich last month.
Sam Byram’s cross should have been cleared by Crainey, but he inexplicably passed it to the standing Morison who beat Gilks with a smart eight-year finish.
Having done little more than threaten from range before that, Blackpool now had a problem but their answer to it was in the negative, with Kenny not worked as Leeds saw the game out with ease.