Birmingham City were the visitors to Elland Road for the first home game of yet another season on Planet Leeds. The early optimism generated by some promising summer signings had already been severely damaged by a woeful visit to West London followed by an all too familiar dance on a cup banana skin at a wet and windy Fleetwood before triumphing in the penalty shoot out. Not exactly a start to get the the masses flocking to the Theatre of Hope in anticiipation that “this will be the year” but enough for 27,000 die hards to put their emotions through mixer for one more time. Oh the joys of supporting the mighty whites!
Pre match refreshment was taken in the new Leeds Fan Village, which looked remarkably like the old members bar but with longer queues, where we digested the team news for Monk’s first league game at ER. Hernandez started in midfield with Antonsson and Wood up front in a 4-4 2 formation. New boy Ayling came straight in at Right back. Roofe, Dallas, Coyle and Cooper were all on the bench. Monk had asked the fans to bring “The Noise” with them to to Elland Road and he won’t have been disappointed as the game kicked off to a cacophony of noise in the famous old stadium. The Leeds team fed on the atmosphere and pinged the ball about positively in the first fifteen minutes creating chances for Antonsson, Bartley and Mowatt as the Leeds faithful purred with delight.
Birmingham did have their own attacks with Donaldson proving a handful for the Leeds centre backs but it was the new resurrgent Leeds who looked the most likely to open the scoring. Was this the start of the Monk revolution? Err no……………whilst the Leeds team and fans were taking in the nexciting new style their old achilles heal kicked in on 15 minutes. Gleeson picked up the ball in midfield and slipped a ball behind the Leeds back four for Maghoma to run onto. Taylor got to the ball first as Green came out and the ball cannoned off the melee and tamely into the Leeds net. The silence from the majority of the ground was eery as the visitors celebrated taking the lead. I thought it was too good to be true.
Leeds were stung by the goal and took 10 minutes to regain their confidence in knocking the ball around. Hernandez was looking a real bargain as he threaded pin point passes to his team mates as Leeds looked for the equaliser. They didn’t have to wait long. On 27 minutes Hernandez started a another sweet Leeds move as they swept down field with Mowatt finally releasing Sacko in the box. The ground erupted as the new winger slotted the ball through Kuszuzak’s legs and into the net. 1.1.
Leeds now began to enjoy themselves prompted by Hernandez and Mowatt they built pressure on the visitors. Antonsson clipped the bar with a shot and Ayling stung Kuszuzak’s fingers with a fizzing drive as the ball came out from yet another Leeds corner. Davis reminded the home fans how fragile their defence was as he advanced unchallenged to the edge of the box before firing just wide of Green’s post. Half Time came with the scores level at 1.1 as the Leeds team trouped off to a healthy ovation from the fans. On their first outing of the season the Urinal philosophers in the NW corner were in a good mood as they heaped praise on Hernandez, Mowatt and Ayling with just the odd worry about the centre of the back four. How prophetic they were!
Now I don’t know what went on in the Leeds dressing room at half time but it wasn’t the same Leeds team that came out for the second half. Gone was the crisp passing that opened up Birmingham in the first 45 minutes replaced by a ponderous, indecisive style that we have seen all too often before. Gone was the eagerness and first to the ball now we were losing individual battles right across the pitch. Even Hernandez started giving the ball away whilst at the back Bamba looked to have decided he could only pass to a visiting player. Clayton Donaldson was just bullying anybody in a white shirt and nobody responded. Up front Wood went from bad to worse with regards his control as the whole team seemed to disintegrate before my very eyes.
The inevitable Birmingham goal came on 55 minutes in a classic Leeds scenario. Corner comes into the box……confusion reigns amongst the defenders……..the ball’s not cleared…….pick any one of three Birminghan players who could have smashed it home. Morrison got there first and hammered the ball home. 2.1 Birmingham. Here we go again. Same old fragile defending, same old lack fire in belly, same old gut wrenching disappointment for the Leeds faithful.
I’d like to report that Leeds re-grouped and took the fight to Birmingham but they didn’t. Birmingham eased through the rest of the game without breaking sweat. Roofe came on for Wood and added a bit more energy, Antonsson tested Kuszuzak from 6 yards, and Roofe missed with a free header. For the record Dallas replaced Hernandez and Phillips swapped with Mowatt. The ref brought the misery to an end with Birmingham running out 2.1 winners. To their credit they played to a simple game plan that wasn’t that spectactular but was too good for Leeds. The second half performance from Leeds was bizarre, worrying and frustrating all rolled into one. The ease with which Birmingham won second and first balls was embarrassing. The fragility at the back and in midfield when a tackle or a challenge needs to be made is just not acceptable to the vast majority of battle weary Leeds fans.
As we streamed away from the ground the there were lots of disgruntled home fans who were once again wondering just what has happened to their beloved Leeds United. Garry Monk has a huge task in front of him if he is to mould some sort of team that will compete in the Championship and by that I mean stay clear of relegation. One thing for sure the fire and leadership required to do that was non existant today. Fulham arrive in West Yorks on Tuesday looking to take advantage of a vulnerable young Leeds team. On this form it will be another long night at The Theatre of Hope? Still I suppose we are at least level with Newcastle after two games? Chin up and let’s move onto Tuesday.