Friday, 3 March 2017

Birmingham City 1 v Leeds United 3 - EFL Championship

Friday 3rd March 2017
SkyBet EFL Championship
at St Andrew's Stadium
Birmingham City (0) 1
Craig Gardner 63
Leeds United (1) 3
Chris Wood 14, 67
Alfonso Pedraza 81
Admission £17.50. Programme £3
Attendance 20,321 (inc. 3,281 Leeds fans)
Birmingham City:
Kuszczak, Nsue, Robinson, Shotton, Kieftenbeld (Jutkiewicz 62), Tesche, Gardner, Adams (Sinclair 89), Dacres-Cogley, Davis, Keita (Frei 82)
Unused subs - Legzdins, Grounds, Gleeson, Bielik.
Leeds United:
Green, Ayling, Bartley, Jansson, Berardi, Bridcutt, O’Kane (Phillips 59), Hernandez (Roofe 82), Doukara, Dallas (Pedraza 73), Wood
Unused subs - Silvestri, Cooper, Roofe, Phillips, Sacko, Barrow, Pedraza.
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Getting there in one piece:
After putting my car windows in, tearing out the stereo and leaving my automobile standing on bricks, so that it would blend in with the local ambiance, I strolled onto Platform 2, to catch the 17.09 train service to Birmingham New Street, and was amused to be greeted by a tannoy announcement: "If you see anything strange or suspicious, please report it to the police or a member of station staff".
This is Chesterfield FFS!
Everyone round these parts is strange and suspicious, it goes with the territory.
The local constabulary and station staff must be inundated with reports of simpleton behaviour, butane sniffing, petty crime, train theft, incestuous fornication in the station toilets and cattle buggery. But if you should have the misfortune to witness any of the above if you should ever find yourself in this God forsaken town, there is no need whatsoever to report it to anyone; because it's all part of the rich tapestry of life and the norm in north east Derbyshire.
So just turn a blind eye and move along... very swiftly!
We alighted at New Street station and it's absolutely tipping it down with rain. A taxi to the ground is going to cost us £1.50 each, or we can take a twenty five minute stroll up to 'Stans' and get soaked to the skin.
It's a no brainer... even though it occasionally pays to keep an eye out for landmarks en route, because some unscrupulous cab drivers have been known to take a circuitous trawl around the outer reaches of the city, with the meter rattling up an exorbitant fare.
But tonight we had one of the good guys, who knew the short cuts and didn't even mind going the wrong way up bus lanes to avoid the inevitable Friday evening congestion around Coventry Road.
Image result for birmingham black cab
None of us was even slightly scared when it sounded as if the Taxi floor was going to drop out with each and every gear shift, or offended by the string of expletive heavy rants and the impressive repertoire of frantic hand gestures that our driver used to communicate with other users of the Queens highway. This guy needs his own TV show!
We were mightily impressed by his geographical knowledge and honesty, so we decided to have a whip round to generously reward him for a job well done. I hope he finds something nice to buy for himself with our offering of £1.23 and a the ten cent coin I've had in my wallet since the family holiday in Florida fifteen years ago... I knew it would come in handy one day!
Both teams went into the game off of the back of wins last weekend with Blues beating Wolves 2-1 at Molineux, while Leeds picked up three points with a home win against play off rivals Sheffield Wednesday.
When these two sides last met, at Elland Road in August, Birmingham won 2-1, thanks to goals from Jacques Maghoma and Michael Morrison, either side of Hadi Sacko's strike for Gary Monk's side.
Monk, incidentally, was serving a one game touchline ban tonight, after getting red carded for his involvement in a fracas with Huddersfield Town boss David Wagner, after his side's 2-1 defeat at the John Smith's Sradium at the beginning of last month. And while we're on the subject of sending off incidents, the Blues veteran skipper Paul Robinson (who also played ten times for tonight's visitors on loan in 2012) had his dismissal at Wolves last Friday overturned on appeal earlier this week.
Unrelenting precipitation fell diagonally from the skies across the ground as the teams warmed up, and though I felt a tinge of sympathy for those in the old Main Stand who were exposed to it all and bearing the full front of whatever this week's crap weather cycle is being called, I was also very grateful that we had paid a couple of extra quid to go on the Kop, where the roof afforded us adequate shelter from the elements.
To our left, Leeds United had travelled south with a noisy following of almost three thousand, three hundred supporters; which made for a great atmosphere as two sets of vociferous fans 'pumped up the volume', as a cracking game of football ensued on the lush green turf of St. Andrew's, after all four sides of the ground had joined in respectfully with a minutes applause in memory of Blues favourite Roger Hynd (he played for the club between 1970 and 1975) who had sadly passed away last month, aged 75.
The main event:
The self depreciating irony and humour of some of the Leeds supporters songs about not being famous anymore and keeping a white flag flying, were amusing; in between the numerous times that they belted out 'Marching On Together', in response to several Richter scale shattering and roof raising renditions of the Birmingham City anthem 'Keep Right On!'
You don't get this kind of theatre and uplifting partisan camaraderie sat at home, watching the game from the comfort of your sofa and although there was a decent turn out for a Friday night game, played in foul weather, there were still far too many empty seats around, even though you could get into St. Andrew's tonight for as little as £12.50 and pay on the gate.
To quote Paul Weller, loosely: "The public gets what the public wants. But I want nothing this Sky TV's got. I'm going to the ground!"
Well, let the boys all sing and the boys all shout for tomorrow, etc etc.
On tonight's showing, that 'tomorrow' will be a better place for both of these sides, though one of them is obviously at a far more advanced stage in that progression.
Gary Monk has assembled a side who must surely be among the hot favourites to get out of this division in an upwards direction, while Gianfranco Zola, well... the signs that Birmingham City are building along the same lines are there, if not the results.
Possibly, he has reached a Jean Paul Satre inspired phase in his team rebuilding, whereby he has been applying time honoured existentialist philosophies that are built around the tried and tested theory that you must destroy before you can create... or possibly he's just been winging it and overlooked the urgent need for another central defender and prolific striker to repair the shortcomings in his game plan.
Only time will tell... but given that Blues have too many points to need to worry about relegation, while, by the same token, they also have nowhere near enough to even squeak their way into the play offs, now is as good a time as any to try out a different approach, in preparation for next term.
Instead of merely chucking the towel in and writing the next few months off, this 'transitional' period could be used as the the longest pre-season in history to get things right in time for the 2017-18 campaign.
I guess your world view depends upon whether you are a glass half empty or glass half full type of person when it comes your optimism and pessimism bio rhythms and flow carts.
Personally, I don't even have a glass, I just spend too much time sat on late night trains and waiting for late running train connections on desolate and deserted railway stations to think about things.
Apparently, Mr Zola is being given a £23 million war chest to bolster his squad in the Summer, or so rumour has it.
So laying the foundations now, instead of merely going through the motions, is surely good business practice both on and off the pitch. But at present, the Birmingham manager must sometimes adopt a horses for course approach, because much as certain players are trying to instill his desired approach the game, they are workmanlike and Committed (with an intentional capital C), but not actually technically adept enough to sustain the tempo and flair for the, whole duration of the game.
That isn't a criticism (with a small c), but merely an eye witnesses statement.
Practice makes perfect and there is no time like the present.
One player whose current form would suggest he is worth blowing a large chunk of Blues closed season budget on is Leeds United's Chris Wood, though I am pretty damn sure that the Yorkshire club would be reluctant to see him go, to say the very least. Either way, he could be a Premier League player with the Elland Road side by then.
Tonight, Birmingham City had the most possession and shots on goal, by quite some way, but Leeds United had Chris Wood.
And that is why they took the spoils tonight.
He really was that pivotal instrumental to their win.
Amazingly, the New Zealand international, has now played for nine English clubs (including loan spells), since he moved halfway across to globe to join West Bromwich Albion in 2009 and one of that number was Birmingham City, for whom he scored nine goals in twenty three appearances during the 2011-12 season.
He's definitely settled in at Leeds, where the club and player seem to be tailor made for each other. Having finished the 2015-16 campaign as the Whites top scorer, he's already surpassed last years goal tally this time around. In fact, he is currently the overall leading goalscorer in the Championship, having taken his tally to twenty one with tonight's brace.
Having been pegged back in their own half for the majority of the opening exchanges, during which time the former England keeper Rob Green had displayed a reminder of his international class to keep Che Adams at bay; Leeds took the lead after fourteen minutes, when Luke Ayling benefitted from a slip by Ryan Shotton, when he hoisted the ball forward into the path of Wood's run, and the prolific striker burst forward on the right before lobbing the ball over Tomasz Kuszczak with a single touch, as the Blues keeper seemed be be caught in two minds as to whether he should advance further off his line to block Wood's angle or retreat to cover the gaping space left beneath his crossbar.
 Either way, Kuszczak had been left horribly exposed and stranded by his defence and the Whites marksmen had picked his spot before he had chance to make up his mind (or change) it.
Recently, I have listened to a few of Gianfranco Zola'spost match debriefings, with no small amount of disbelief, incredulity and puzzlement, when he has spoken of Birmingham having been the better side who haven't got what they deserved out of several games; and to be honest I've thought to myself: 'What effing game were you watching, because is wasn't like that at all', but tonight, although everybody already knew what he was going to day (again), he was 100% bang on the money... and even the most ardent and dyed in the wool Leeds fan would dispute his claims.
Shots reigned in on (and around) the Leeds goal and shortly before half time Robert Tesche rattled the crossbar witha thirty yard piledriver that had Green well beaten.
Apart from scoring, Blues had done just about everything that anybody could've asked of them as they went in a goal behind at the break.
Emilio Nsue was proving to be a great acquisition for Zola's side and the right flank, from box to box, was his domain... he covered so much ground tonight, that he's probably now taken official ownership of both touchlines.
The second half continued in the same vein, it was one way traffic and Blues were pulling Leeds all over the place in the final third, but somehow the decisive final touch kept eluding them.
Adams headed Maikel Kieftenbeld's cross beyond the reach of Green, but Kyle Bartley (another ex Blues loanee) hooked the ball away from on the line.
Green and his defence were leading a (very) charmed life, but their luck finally ran out in the sixty third minute, when David Davis' strike from the edge of the box, rebounded towards Graig Gardner, who found the bottom left hand corner of the net with a twenty five yard strike, that took a very slight deflection as it eat the unsighted Leeds keeper.
Blues fans celebrated wildly and taunted the visiting fans with a chant of: "You only sing when your winning!", but probably wish that they had chosen something different to sing as United regained the lead just under four minutes later, when Josh Dacres-Cogley, a former Blues Academy player, slipped as he went to deal with Kalvin Phillips ball into the Blues goalmouth and Wood, who else! Was on hand to steer the ball into the back of the net from close range.
If there was any justice in the world, Blues would now continue to swamp their play off chasing visitors and spank them out out of sight by a two or three goal margin.
Instead Leeds gave them a lesson in how to be clinical when goal scoring opportunities and another in staying focussed in front of your own goal.
The unfortunate Dacres-Cogley got caught in two minds in the middle of the park and lost possession the ball and in a flash Leeds broke forward at pace and punished the youngster's error as Pablo Hernandez released Alfonso Pedraza, who clinched the game for Gary Monk's side with a shot across Kuszczak then settled into the bottom corner of the net before he ran to celebrate with the jubilant Leeds fans behind the goal, with just nine minutes remaining.
It was all over bar the shouting (of which there was plenty) now, even though Evans struck a shot wide of the upright and had a penalty appeal turned away... and sure enough, just as a deflated Blues side had picked themselves up and found their flow again, it was too late to do anything to salvage the game now... and Leeds had claimed a vital win, against the run of play, with what can only be described as a typical away performance.
Ultimately, class, composure, calm and assured finishing and, of course, Chris Wood, won the game for the Whites... and although Blues won many admirers for their stylish approach to the game, Leeds had showed them just what they need to do at critical moments, in front of both goals, if they are to take the step up to the next level. I suspect that Leeds are ready to take that giant stride back up to the top flight any time soon and I wouldn't be surprised if they achieved that goal at the end of the current season. 
FT: Birmingham City 1 v Leeds United 3
Both teams play again on Tuesday night, when Blues entertain Wigan Athletic and Leeds travel to Craven Cottage to face Fulham.
While passing by the Bullring Centre, en route to New Street, having circumnavigated an endless row of brightly dressed police officers, who didn't seem to be in any kind of mood to **** about, I smiled benevolently at a young Leeds fan who was enthusing about how Gareth Southgate should pick Wood (a Kiwi) to start in his next England team. Hmm...perhaps not, eh!?
The train I caught was heading to Yorkshire, as you can imagine, it was an eventful journey home. But having survived the ride to the ground with 'Kamikaze Cabs' of Digbeth's finest driver, I was well prepared for any eventuality.
Birmingham New Street Station.
It's horrible!