SECOND-HALF strikes from Tom Cairney, Jordan Rhodes and Jay Spearing fired Rovers to an emphatic victory over their 10-man Roses rivals at Elland Road.

Gary Bowyer’s injury ravaged side made Leeds pay after they had Rudy Austin sent off in the 39th minute for an off-the-ball incident.

Cairney, who was on United’s books as a boy, broke the deadlock and his goal drought in the 62nd minute before top-scorer Rhodes doubled the advantage seven minutes later as he took his tally for the term up to 17.

And it was left up to Spearing to complete the scoring 10 minutes from time with his first goal for the club.

It was Rovers’ third straight away league victory, one which closed the gap on the play-off places to 11 points, and their fourth in succession over Leeds.

But it was one that came at a cost as Rudy Gestede and his replacement Chris Brown were both forced off.

It means Rovers have 10 players carrying injuries ahead of Wednesday’s massive FA Cup quarter-final replay with Liverpool at Ewood Park.

Untied, unbeaten in their previous five matches, had more of the ball and most of the pressure before Austin’s moment of madness six minutes before the break.

But only once did they truly trouble Rovers debutant goalkeeper David Raya.

The highly regarded 19-year-old was thrown into the fray with half an eye on the replay with Liverpool.

Simon Eastwood, who has kept goal for Rovers throughout their thrilling run to the last eight, has sustained an injury and is a doubt for the game.

That means number one Jason Steele is set to start against Liverpool, a match the cup-tied Raya will not be able to play in after starring in Southport’s third-round defeat at Derby County in January while on loan at the Conference Premier outfit.

Instead it was Rovers, who were also missing seven outfield players after Chris Taylor picked up a groin injury in training, who had the better opportunities in the first half.

The first of which came in the 13th minute after Rhodes latched on to a precise through pass from Cairney, just as he did in last season’s corresponding fixture.

But, instead of seeing his right-foot shot hit the back of the net, this time he saw it deflect off Sol Bamba and on to the bar.

Ten minutes later and Rhodes, who scored twice in this season’s reverse encounter, volleyed over after Bamba failed to head clear a long Ben Marshall throw pumped into the box.

And, given he got such a good connection to the ball, the striker will have been disappointed he did not score.

The same could be said of the fired-up Austin in the 25th minute when he met an inviting Charlie Taylor cross only to head over from six yards out.

Gaetano Berardi then drew a comfortable save out of Raya from distance, as had Charlie Taylor earlier in the contest, after Gestede had just failed to get his head to an inswinging Cairney cross.

But the young Spaniard was tested in the 36th minute after Sam Byram volleyed a deep cross from Austin back into the danger area where the ball hit Rovers captain Matt Kilgallon and was heading into his own goal until Raya showed razor-sharp reactions to keep it out.

The game’s major talking point came three minutes later.

Gary Sutton missed Austin’s alleged punch to Marshall’s chest near Raya’s goal.

But one of Sutton’s assistants did not and he instructed the referee to dismiss the Jamaican.

And, from the start of the second half, Rovers dominated.

In the 48th minute only the fingertips of Marco Silvestri prevented Gestede from turning in Adam Henley’s cross.

But Rovers, with new loan signing Paul Taylor on for his debut in place of the booked Henley, did not have to wait too long for the opener.

Lee Williamson played the ball over the top toward Gestede who outmuscled Guiseppe Bellusci and charged into the area.

His cross was cut out yet only as far as Cairney, who took a touch before rifling the ball expertly into the bottom corner from 10 yards.

It was a sweet moment for the 6ft midfielder after he was released by Leeds at the age of 16 for being too small.

Gestede was not smiling, however, as he injured his hamstring in the build-up and had to come off.

Marshall, moved to right-back after Paul Taylor’s introduction, then rattled the post with a superb left-footed effort after a storming run.

But one soon became two, Brown sending Cairney scampering away down the right before receiving a return pass and chipping the ball up to the back post where Rhodes headed in his fourth goal in his last three appearances against Leeds.

And it got better for Rovers when Marshall did brilliantly down the right and rolled the ball across the six-yard box for Spearing to slide home number three.

Again, though, it came at a cost as Brown had to be replaced by the returning John O’Sullivan, again because of pain in his hamstring.

But the last word nearly went to Rhodes as hit the woodwork for the second time.

Leeds: Silvestri, Wootton (Antenucci 66), Bamba, Bellusci, Berardi (Cooper 66), Murphy, Austin, Mowatt, C Taylor, Byram, Morison (Sharp 86). Subs not used: S Taylor, Phillips, Dawson, Doukara.

Booked: Antenucci, Murphy, C Taylor.

Rovers: Raya, Henley (P Taylor 59), Baptiste, Kilgallon, Olsson, Cairney, Spearing, Williamson, Marshall, Rhodes, Gestede (Brown 64 (O’Sullivan81)). Subs not used: Steele, Spurr, Lenihan, Evans.

Booked: Henley, P Taylor.

Goals: Cairney 62, Rhodes 69, Spearing 90.

Referee: Gary Sutton.

Attendance: 25,293.