Leeds United came from behind to go through to the fourth round of the FA Cup for only the second time in the last 10 years, releasing some of the pressure on manager Neil Warnock. With the reward a televised tie at home against Spurs, this was a match worth winning in every respect, and Leeds will not care their winning goal, a penalty, had a controversial element.
“We played good football and thoroughly deserved the win,” said Warnock. “I came in for a bit of stick after the way we played at Barnsley at the weekend [a 2-0 defeat], but the response to all criticism has to come on the pitch. We were a little bit apprehensive in the first half, but thoroughly enjoyed ourselves after that.”
As the game started, the focus was as much on players left out as those on the pitch. For Birmingham, the absence of Jack Butland meant the highly-rated young goalkeeper – a £6m target for Newcastle United among others – would not have his transfer value devalued by being Cup-tied.
Leeds’ supporters may have concluded that 19-goal top-scorer Luciano Becchio’s non-appearance presages the Argentine’s departure. Warnock later said the striker had been ill.
Leeds did not begin badly, at least in comparison to their abject effort at Oakwell, a performance that saw the travelling United fans lose patience with Warnock. They offered little in terms of creativity but there was a competitive edge to their tackling.
Birmingham were the crisper passers though, and shortly after the half hour deservedly took the lead. Marlon King’s neat pass freed Nathan Redmond down the right, and the young midfielder’s low cross was decisively finished by Wade Elliott coming in at the far post.
The second half was a different story. Rodolph Austin forced Blues’ goalkeeper Colin Doyle to block a low effort and the pressure being exerted by the visitors told when Sam Byram crossed, El-Hadji Diouf laid the ball back, and Ross McCormack side-footed an equaliser.
Soon afterwards they got the winner when Austin’s cross from the right struck Blues’ full-back Paul Robinson on the hand, just inside the area according to the referee, just outside in the opinion of the Birmingham players. Diouf chipped in from the spot.
Birmingham pressed for an equaliser, but Aidy White kicked a Nikola Zigic header off the line and Jaime Ashdown brilliantly saved from Peter Lovenkrands.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Doyle; Caddis, Caldwell, Davies, Robinson; Burke, Gomis, Morrison (Lovenkrands, 77), Elliott: Redmond (Zigic, 83), King. Substitutes not used Townsend, Ibañez, Hancox, Higgins, Hales.
Leeds United (4-4-2): Ashdown: Byram, Lees, Peltier, Drury (White, 11): Green, Austin, Brown, Varney; Diouf (Pearce, 90), McCormack. Substitutes not used Kenny, Tate, Norris, Hall, Somma.
Referee A Woolmer (Northamptonshire).