Leeds United 1
Birmingham City 2
Well, that was a disappointment! This was a game where all logic told us Leeds were good enough to beat Birmingham and most of us predicted exactly that although acknowledging that it wouldn’t be easy as their record clearly showed they were a difficult side to score against. But, noting how they had conceded only 7 goals all season and how they had only lost two games, both to a 1 – 0 score line, there was one thing everyone was certain about before the game; we needed to score early and certainly we had to make damn sure they didn’t…
Somehow we contrived to concede two of the softest goals you will ever come across in a first thirty minutes during which we were otherwise untroubled and of course Birmingham then did what they do best, defended with their lives, stopped the play at every opportunity with cynical feigned injuries and generally disrupted any momentum Leeds could build. Leeds didn’t help the cause with some more wayward shooting, a problem we have seen too often this season and last.
Marcelo Bielsa has suggested that the problems we experienced today were of his making, in that he set the team up wrongly; suggesting that for this game he shouldn’t have used Kalvin Phillips in his usual holding role as we were not able to move the ball quickly enough from back to front, but I don’t really think the two goals we gave away were down to that. The first was a case of us just not being switched on when Che Adams got the ball, back to goal, and was allowed to turn, with Jack Harrison slipping over and too many Leeds players watching not tackling. Even then, to see your keeper beaten by a weak shot that crossed the line 2 yards inside a post just isn’t good enough at this level, even if, as we must assume, Peacock-Farrell was unsighted. It was a horrible goal to concede so early. The second, scored on the half hour, did come about from a loose Phillips pass on half-way giving away possession as we saw him do early in the game at Swansea when he also got the dreaded Bielsa hook. This time you have to suggest that Barry Douglas should have done better to prevent Adams again turning on the edge of the area to then thread another worm-burner just in off the reverse post. It was the worst possible start and we knew perfectly well how Birmingham would then defend that two goal lead.
And they didn’t disappoint us did they?; every opportunity to stop the game was taken with Birmingham players tumbling over and holding their heads every few minutes ensuring that the referee had to interrupt play and thus stop any chance of Leeds creating the fluency that our game plan requires. The ref did at least take note of the Leeds protests and add well over 8 minutes on at the end. The Blues amassed 21 fouls in this game – when the usual number in the Championship is around a dozen just as Leeds recorded today and Leeds and Preston did on Tuesday.
Bielsa made his early change to correct his “error” with Stuart Dallas coming on for Phillips almost immediately the second goal went in. He made further changes on the hour with Forshaw replacing Klich and then, in a last ditch attempt to try something a bit different, big Ryan Edmondson was tried as Leeds went to three at the back sacrificing Barry Douglas. Leeds got one back with an angled Alioski shot in the 85th minute and almost got the second we needed with a Dallas left foot shot that Lee Camp got down to with a strong right hand but it was too little too late and down we went to our first league defeat.
So, where does that leave us? Well, the simple answer is “Still top of the table!” so we shouldn’t beat ourselves up too much over it. Looking at the match stats they bear a remarkable similarity to those from the Preston game – overwhelming majority of the possession, 17 attempts, five on target and restricting the opposition to just four attempts (Preston had 5) with three on target; almost identical stats and yet we beat Preston three nil and lost to the Blues 1 – 2… just not fair is it? The key difference was really only that against Preston we found the net three times from our 17 attempts and today it was just the once and against Preston we didn’t give them a two goal start to defend!
I’m going to therefore put this one down to experience, a one off against an efficient side that we messed up against. If we can now go up to Hillsborough on Friday and produce a performance with a tight defence and stick away a couple of chances then this today will soon be forgotten. It feels to me as if this is the most likely scenario but that might be me being overly optimistic and ignoring the fact that Wednesday found enough quality today to go to Villa Park and come away with all three points! If we were to fail on Friday, then that would be a moment to stop and think if maybe we are not quite as good as we think we are under Bielsa and, God forbid maybe we are looking at the sort of decline we saw this time last season from a similar looking group of players. Let’s wait and see what happens before we go there though!
Leeds Utd Birmingham C
Possession 71% 29%
Shots 17 4
On Target 5 3
Corners 7 4
Fouls 13 21