Leeds Utd 3 (Bamford 34, James 45+1, Summerville 67)
Birmingham City 0
1st January, 2024, EFL Championship.
That was much more like it from Leeds but let’s be honest, this Birmingham side is very, very poor – poor individually and poor collectively and when the Leeds fans were serenading Wayne Rooney with “Sacked in the morning” I really wouldn’t be surprised, they were that bad. Leeds didn’t have to be as swashbuckling good as we were against Ipswich but we did have to be efficient and we were.
Leeds made five changes from the side that failed to overcome West Brom and there were some raised eyebrows with the inclusion of Archie Gray again at right back when many Leeds fans considered that experiment had run its course and shouldn’t be repeated – maybe Daniel Farke was aware just how unlikely it was that Rooney’s team would trouble us greatly. The other changes – Klaesson enforced, due to the untimely thumb dislocation for the unlucky Karl Darlow, Bamford for Piroe and the return of Dan James and Glen Kamara for Willy Gnonto and Ilia Gruev – were less controversial.
For half an hour, Leeds again struggled to break down the opposition, as we know we have often done of late but, as soon as we did break through, this game was never in doubt and, for once, I felt confident throughout the last hour of the contest.
I’m not Patrick Bamford’s greatest admirer these days but it is fantastic that he has finally got himself a goal and fantastic also that he celebrated it in the best possible fashion with the fans; it was a good goal too and hopefully helps the misfiring striker regain his old poise and confidence. The ball was played out to Dan James on the right, for once Dan went on the outside and whipped the ball over and Bamford had to make a good leap to stretch and nod the ball past the keeper, albeit the Birmingham defence will be getting a tongue lashing from Rooney for leaving him relatively unchallenged. The goal calmed the nerves and, as I say, there was hardly a scare after that while Leeds gradually built up a cricket score of goal attempts – 22 – and got half of them on target.
The second goal came at a nice time for Leeds, just before the break and it’s another one that showed the Birmingham defence to be one of the worst we’ve seen this season. Junior Firpo marauding down the left, a low cross or pass across the face of goal and Dan James, almost surprised by how much space he had, side-footed the ball at goal. It took a big deflection off a defender that deceived John Ruddy in the Blues’ goal, and that was a comfortable and well-deserved 2 – 0 lead at the break.
Birmingham only had two attempts at goal that looked remotely dangerous all game, one in the first half when Klaesson got down well at full stretch to save, and one early in the second half when Bacuna somehow got free behind the Leeds back line and dinked the ball past the onrushing Klaesson, only to see the ball float past the left post. That one was a worry, if Blues found a way through, then I’m sure other sides can. One shot on target in the whole game from a meagre 8 attempts told the story of a woeful Birmingham though. If I was a Blues fan I’d be worried about being dragged into a relegation fight.
Leeds had chances early in the new half – particularly a left-footer from Patrick Bamford that struck the right post, but midway through the second half, Leeds finally put this game to bed and it was another example of the genius of both Georginio and Cree Summerville, ably assisted this time by more good work from Junior Firpo who might just have done enough to grab that left back spot back again, particularly with Sam Byram going off injured in this one. It was the sort of work from Georgi and Cree that we’ve not seen for a couple of games and we need those moments of inspiration more regularly if we are to continue to prosper. Georginio took two Birmingham defenders out of the game as he turned 180 degrees and lifted a delightful lob over them and into the path of the overlapping Junior Firpo. He was a picture of composure as he took a couple of strides on towards goal before laying the ball back to Cree Summerville who showed us again what a clinical finisher he can be if given the opportunities; he steered the ball expertly inside the right post.
Junior Firpo almost capped an excellent game when he glanced a header against the back post from a corner but he should be well satisfied with his overall game and his two assists; now he just has to continue with that sort of form against better opponents.
With several results this afternoon going in our favour, some of the damage done by those three defeats in the last five games has been rectified but, once again, we have to factor in the form and performance of Birmingham; I doubt we’ll come up against easier opponents this season but we will need to find many more results like this if we are to snatch one of those automatic promotion places which, suddenly seems achievable again; a tough ask, but achievable.
Leeds U Birmingham
Possession 64% 36%
Shots 21 11
On Target 11 8
Corners 6 3
Fouls 10 14