With a single defeat having much the same effect on club owner Massimo Cellino as a dose of Kryptonite on Superman, the odds on Leeds United’s caretaker manager Neil Redfearn being offered the job on a full-time basis must have fluctuated wildly during this game.
At the end of a first half in which his side barely tested City goalkeeper Darren Rudolph, and during which Wesley Thomas put the home team into the lead, United’s academy director must have drifted from favourite to rank outsider.
The second half, however, was a sufficiently different story to keep Redfearn firmly in the running, albeit that both sides came close to pinching a winner after Alex Mowatt had equalised with 15 minutes remaining. City came closest when Demarai Gray went down under a challenge from Guiseppe Bellusci in the penalty area, only to be booked for simulation.
The decision disgusted the Birmingham manager Lee Clark: “I’ve seen it again and it’s a penalty; the defender doesn’t touch the ball and the only way Demarai can avoid contact is to jump 10 feet in the air.He’s a super kid and he’s effectively been accused of faking. Are we trying to encourage young players to take players on or not? Maybe next time he’ll pass the ball and take the safe option.”
The first half an hour of the game was an almost complete non-event. It said everything about the lack of creativity that the nearest the game came to producing a goal was when Randolph pumped a long ball into the Leeds box, and United centre-half Bellusci mistimed his attempt to head clear so badly that the ball skidded backwards off the top of his head, flying only a foot wide of his own goal.
It was not Bellusci’s only error of judgement. Shortly after the United defenders had given Clayton Donaldson room to turn and curl a low shot a foot wide, Thomas, isolated on the left touchline, laid the ball off to Brek Shea and then ran goal-side of Bellusci to receive the return pass in the United penalty area. The finish, with his left foot, was assured.
Shea might have looked faintly ridiculous with an outlandish haircut, socks at half-mast, and shocking pink boots, but the American winger was a threat. He ran out of steam after an hour, though, and his replacement shortly after the hour by Gray was something of an act of mercy on the part of Clark. With Gaetano Berardi having backed off nervously, the young substitute quickly tested Marco Silvestri with a low shot the goalkeeper had to dive to keep out.
Gray’s pace and trickery was terrifying the United defence, but with United pressing for the equaliser, the threat he posed was very much on the break, and with 15 minutes remaining, the visitors got the goal their possession and positivity just about deserved. Bianchi’s cross was headed away by Neal Eardley, but only as far as Mowatt, who drove into the left side of the City penalty area before beating Randolph with a low cross-shot.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Randolph; Eardley, Edgar, Hall (Robinson, 46) Grounds; Cotterill, Caddis, Davis (Spector, 79), Shea (Gray 67); Thomas, Donaldson.
Leeds United (4-1-2-1-2): Silvestri; Berardi, Pearce, Bellusci, Warnock: Cook; Bianchi, Mowatt; Sloth (Austin, 63); Sharp (Doukara, 63); Antenucci.
Referee: Scott Duncan.
Man of the match: Cook (Leeds United)
Match rating: 7/10Reuse content