birmingham city 1- 3 leeds united: seriously rightBack
Garry Monk in the stands, Pep Clotet and James Beattie on the touchline, Leeds in all-white on the pitch, and Nikola Zigic nowhere to be seen. His old lack of quality haunted the match anyway.
There were early signs of some of Leeds’ less favoured styles from recent weeks; nonchalance at the back inviting opponents, who might not otherwise have thought of it, to pressure Pontus Jansson and Kyle Bartley and imagine they might be able to nick the ball from them. And then, worse, to start nicking the ball from them. It was a disjointed start from Leeds, giving Birmingham a couple of chances and a penalty call in the first fifteen minutes.
But it was combined with one of United’s better traits; banging the ball up the other end of the pitch and scoring a goal. Banging it undersells what Luke Ayling did, sending the ball precisely up the right of the pitch past Paul Robinson and Ryan Shotton, where Chris Wood turned what shouldn’t have been a chance into a real beauty of a goal. A long outstretched leg and a deft flick, and the ball soared over Tomas Kuszczak and into the net. Against the run of play? Only made it better.
The goal discouraged Leeds from relaxed play at the back, and into trying those long front to back balls some more, although Souleymane Doukara couldn’t repeat Wood’s trick; or reach the pass, as far as it went. Birmingham City began seeking an equaliser, Jansson cutting out a long ball just before it was nodded into the net, Leeds clearing the ball from the resulting corner after a fair old scramble in the six yard box.
The game meandered for a while until chances increased as time decreased towards half-time; Birmingham had a few, while Leeds struggled to loop Pablo Hernandez in on what they were doing, and went back to the direct-to-Wood option; he, in a moment of mental Van Bastenness, juggled the ball down the right wing, cut to the byline, and shot from an angle of about two degrees. He hammered the ball high past the goal posts. Then a volley by Robert Tesche was hammered off Leeds’ crossbar, and it was time for half-time.
And time for, we expected, the now classic Leeds United second half lift. Or for Birmingham to have two close chances in a minute at the start of the half, Bartley clearing a header off the line and then a shot going just over the bar; a minute later Bartley had to clear again, booting the ball away after a sharp near post save by Robert Green from Che Adams.
With Leeds unable to get into Birmingham’s half for the first fifteen minutes, BeaMonkClotetie took off Eunan O’Kane, who was having one of his ‘only notice his mistakes’ sort of games, and replaced him with Kalvin Phillips, the player you want if you’re just planning to tackle opposition players in your own half for the last thirty minutes, and don’t mind if it goes wrong after twenty.
Or five. Birmingham went through a comically bad set-piece routine but, even though they tried to run the ball out of play several times, Leeds still let them have the ball on the back of the box, twice even, and with the second attempt Craig Gardner curved a deflected daisy cutter quickly around Green and inside the post. They deserved it. Only made it worse.
This was poor, but Leeds United’s resilience is a thing, and Chris Wood is a phenomenon. Doukara and Phillips were living up to their low billings as they milled around on the right wing, Doukara struggling to beat a player, Phillips swinging over a half-cut cross; but they got the ball back, and got their act together. Phillips passed wide to Doukara, headed into the box — Birmingham’s box, I should clarify — and got the ball back. He hit a low cross into the six yard box where a Birmingham block couldn’t keep the ball away from Wood. A good goal and something, again, to defend.
Alfonso Pedraza joined in, in place of Stuart Dallas, because Leeds still weren’t getting forward much; the theory seemed to be that Pedraza could do what he did against Huddersfield by grabbing the ball and running away with it, fast. Speaking of grabbing the ball, Adams should have been booked for trying to win a penalty by lying on the ground and slapping the ball with his hand, but was let off. A card went to David Davis instead, for scything down Pedraza as he tried to set Leeds off on an upfield charge. There were about ten minutes left, and Birmingham looked frustrated.
Leeds started the closing period by getting Ayling forward for pretty much the first time, who set up Hernandez to do his second good thing of the game — the first was a first half flick, the second was this shot, which was saved. Then he did his third good thing; Phillips won the ball on the halfway line, Hernandez took the ball from Wood, turned 360 degrees, and passed the ball into the path of Pedreza, who dashed, took a touch, took a shot, and scored, putting the ball across Kuszczak into the far bottom corner. Then Hernandez left so Roofe could come on; he’d done three good things, and sometimes that’s enough.
You could have substituted any of United’s outfield players if you wanted, except Gaetano Berardi, who would fight you, and Chris Wood, whose only blemish was not sealing his hat trick in injury time. To a player, and to varying degrees, Leeds United were rubbish; and while it’s a football virtue to play badly and win, it’s wise not to push it to this extent. Not against a good team, anyway.
It’s hard to work out what is wrong with Birmingham City, but something there is seriously awry with that club. And it’s hard to work out what is right with Leeds United, but there is something seriously right with our club. However Garry, Pep and James are doing this, I hope they can do it again at Fulham next week.
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