Birmingham C. Leeds United Possession 61% 39%
Shots 27 10
On Target 6 6
Corners 8 0
Fouls 7 12
Birmingham City 1 Leeds United 3
If this game had been a boxing match, Birmingham City would have won by a unanimous points decision; they dominated the first 70 minutes, pummelled our goal and attacked at will although fortunately for us they were very much lacking a knock-out punch. That it was Leeds who actually came away victorious tells the story of how we have become a very difficult side to beat even when the opposition appears to have all the aces.
On occasions this season we have played some superb football, rarely have we done that for 90 minutes at a time but in most games we have played well for at least brief spells. Last night was another example when, having been on the ropes for well over an hour, we suddenly got our act together and had another purple patch for the final 20 minutes. Until then, the Blues had been well on top, bossing the possession statistics, attacking at will down our flanks and having regular pops at Rob Green’s goal. It was hard to believe the Blues were struggling so much at the wrong end of the table but then again, the fact that for all that possession they rarely actually tested Green, probably goes a long way to explaining why. They just couldn’t finish and that is partly down to their own shortcoming up front but also no doubt due to the ferocious way in which the Famous Five defend our goal. Last night we were again guilty of overplaying the ball too close to our own danger area but give credit to Bartley and his rear-guard crew, whenever they look like they’ve cocked-up or when the Blues looked like they were through, one of the five would come to the rescue with a super human block, tackle or save. The whole of this current Leeds squad is clearly together in all senses of the word but the defence is a little club all of its own too and they give the impression that they’d die for each other should the need arise.
Leeds in recent games have suffered from a strange malaise of sloppy passing, too often giving up promising positions with a careless or over-ambitious attempt at a pass and that was a large part of the reason the Blues had so much ball – we were giving it back to them too easily. Pablo Hernandez was the chief culprit. It is part of his game that his passing is always right on the edge, often he plays the ball first time having seen an opportunity that few other players would spot. Hence he’s flicking, caressing and nudging the ball often without actually looking where he’s sending it. It’s like the old saying about having to break a few eggs to make an omelette. But, last night he was doing it too often and too often it wasn’t working out. We saw perfectly what his game is all about in the lead up to Pedraza’s goal – the whole world was expecting Pablo to open up the play by sending the ball to his right to Leeds players in space, but Pablo could see what the rest of us probably missed, that Alfonso was in on goal on his favoured left foot if the ball could just be threaded through the eye of that particular needle; and Pablo achieved the impossible. So, Pablo, just ease up a bit mate and do the obvious a bit more often, particularly in your own half!
One part of our game that is clearly improving though is our own finishing; as poor as the Blues were, we were at our clinical best. Woody’s first was a sublime piece of quick thinking and reaction, something Wood has always been good at; it’s when he has to think about it a bit that he often trips up. And of course Alfonso’s finish was also right on the money.
So, for all of the Blues’ attacking threat their strike force was no match for our Famous Five and therein was the tale of the tape last night. If ever we can be at our passing best at the same time as we take our shooting boots with us then we are going to score a lot of goals against somebody. I doubt it will be Fulham though where we must expect them to be far more clinical than Birmingham and hence we have to be more careful and keep possession of that ball for longer at a time. Even Fulham will struggle to breach the Leeds defence though.
Eleven games to go, plus hopefully three more and it really is starting to feel like this is the season. The stars appear to be aligning for us.