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Saturday, 4 March 2017

Birmingham City v Leeds Utd. 3rd Mar 2017.

After battling through some horrendous Friday night weather and traffic Birmingham City's floodlights appeared out of the depressing gloom of England's 2nd city like a welcoming lighthouse for the hardy 3,200 travelling Leeds fans. As is the norm for this remarkable season expectation levels were high as we digested Garry Monk's latest team selection. Dallas was in for the hugely frustrating Sacko, Vieira was rested and O'Kane continued alongside Bridcutt. Could Leeds stretch their advantage over 7th placed Fulham to a mind boggling 11 points? Would we suffer any yellow card suspensions for our key defenders? Would Monk's touchline ban impact the team's performance? We were about to find out.

Birmingham's form since bizarrely sacking their manager has been catastrophic save for a surprise victory at neighbours Wolves last time out. Still on paper they have a decent side and in the opening salvos they showed that they might just be adapting to Zola's tactics in a positive way. After Dallas had tested the home goalie it was the Blues who were on the front foot as they looked to spread the ball wide at every opportunity, especially on Berardi's's flank. Gardner crashed a shot from a tight angle into Green's side netting and then minutes later breached the Leeds back line to force a terrific save from the Leeds guardian. Green's early days at Leeds were less than convincing but he has grown in confidence as the season has progressed and is now in the best form of his long career. Birmingham's bright start gave the home fans some hope but Leeds aren't in the play off positions by luck. On 14 minutes they showed St Andrews and the TV audience just why they have got their fanatical following dreaming of a return to the Premier League.

The Leeds back four repelled another Blues attack and the imperious Luke Ayling drove the ball out of defence like a well tuned Hummer.............the ex Bristol City full back looked up and hit a lovely curling ball forward looking for Wood behind the home defence. A desperate out stretched defenders leg failed to make contact with ball allowing the ice cool Wood to simply lob the oncoming Kuszczak with the precision of a brain surgeon. 1.0 Leeds and the away end celebrated yet another goal from their star striker. Who needs to spend a fortune on strikers? The goal didn't upset Birmingham's rhythm if anything it spurred them on to attack Leeds with more vigour. Davis wasted two good chances and then Gardner blazed over after more good approach play stretched the creaking Leeds defence. This wasn't the form of a team in crisis as the nerves started to jangle in the away end.

When Leeds drew breath and attacked themselves the home back four did look vulnerable. Wood combined with Dallas to leave the Northern Irish international free on the edge of the box but he snatched at his shot and the ball sailed into the Birmingham crowd. Doukara found the same spot in the crowd with a horrendous left foot effort but it was definitely the Blues who were on top as the half  came to a close. A spectacular volley from Tesche clattered Green's bar as the half finished with Leeds leading 1.0. Phew!

Monk appeared to have adopted Muhammed Ali's famous "Rope a Dope" tactics when he allowed George Foreman to batter him on the ropes before grilling him with superb counter attacks in the Rumble in the Jungle. Either that or the impressive Birmingham side had surprised Leeds with the quality of their play and the play off contenders were struggling to cope? Leeds weren't helping themselves though with the number of times they gave the ball back cheaply.......Something not lost on the notoriously hard to please Urinal philosophers......."You can take Hernandez, Doukara and Dallas off for me, they're shite" one expert pundit thought, "Our midfield is non existent" thought another whilst the vitriol didn't end there "O'Kane's a complete waste of time" sneered another upset Leeds fan. We were 1.0 up away from home by the way if anybody had forgotten against a team who were playing very well.

Leeds needed to react to the Birmingham tactics though as they continually looked to attack from wide out. Berardi was working overtime to keep the flow of balls into the box down to a minimum with every tackle increasing in intensity Mr Berardi had a potential red card written all over the him. Jansson and Bartley were grinding it out with their usual grit in the trenches. Bartley saved a certain goal with a last ditch clearance. This wasn't looking good for Leeds as an equaliser looked inevitable. Inevitably the inevitable finally happened. A poor headed clearance from Doukara was hammered back into the Leeds box which rebounded to Gardner on the edge of the box where he drove home a deserved equaliser. The home fans erupted. They were on top and sensed the game was their's for the taking. Depression gathered in the away end as the home fans finally found their voice.

Phillips had replaced O'Kane and immediately brought a bit more structure to the Leeds midfield. Hernadez was still playing either a suicidal pass or a wonder pass but nothing in between. Bridcutt was playing too deep. Doukara and Dallas were flitting in and out of the game. Leeds needed an injection of hope and within 4 minutes of the equaliser they got it which was as much a surprise to Leeds as it was devastation to Birmingham. Phillips was at the heart of it as he swapped passes with Doukara and breached the Blues backline to pull back the perfect pass to Wood who doesn't miss from 5 yards. 2.1 Leeds and carnage in the away end. This Leeds team just don't know when they're beat.

Birmingham were wounded and struggled to respond. Leeds started to pick them off on the break. Pedraza replaced Dallas. His fresh legs rubbed salt into Birmingham's open wound as Leeds tore into the weakening home defence.  Hernandez last act before being subbed was to set up Pedraza with a sublime pass that the Spanish loanee finished with some style. 3.1 Leeds and the warbled tune of "Leeds are going up" blasted out from behind Kuzsczak's goal. Unbelievable! Leeds saw the game out with Roofe coming on for a delightful cameo. 3 more points for Leeds's promotion juggernaut. Delicious.

In lots of ways this result and performance typifies Garry Monk's team. They find a way to win even when things are not going well. They don't give up on anything from a tackle through to the result. It's not always pretty but with splashes of quality entwined with a streak of sheer bloody mindedness this Leeds team are on a roll and long may it continue. Green was brilliant, Ayling was awesome, Wood just sublime, Pontus and Kyle were towers of resistance, Berardi stuck to his difficult task manfully. Pedraza looked good when he came on and took his goal ruthlessly. Phillips changed the game when he came on. The long journey home flew by as the reality of an 11 points cushion between us and the 7th placed caressed my ragng senses. Delicious!

Fulham away up next and then QPR at home. Fasten your seat belts the Leeds United juggernaut has got the hammer down and heading for the Premier League. Who dares to stop them? Love it.

Can't wait.



Andy P said...

Love it indeed Andrew, great report.These dizzy heights and optimism been a long time coming but I fear we now need to start play much more consistently to beat the better teams in this league. However, the marching on together continues.

Unknown said...

Thnx for another great report Andrew. Long nay it continue. MOT onwards and upwards!!!

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