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Football League

Lita sparks Clark's party while Bates moves nearer exit

Leeds United 0 Birmingham City 1

As is so often the way with Leeds United, events at Elland Road were overshadowed by dealings off the pitch despite the home side falling to a demoralising home defeat to struggling Birmingham City.

With the United chairman Ken Bates confirming that a takeover by Bahrain-based investment bank GFH is likely to happen within a matter of days, Leeds fans could be forgiven for yet again daring to envisage a brighter future.

But if the mood in the stands has improved because Bates's departure may be imminent, on the pitch the team itself remains very much a work in progress was clearly evident during a dour performance which will have absolutely done nothing to revive Leeds' hopes of a return to the Premier League this season.

In truth, neither side deserved to win a disappointing match, but Birmingham triumphed thanks to a remarkable goal powered in by Leroy Lita from a distance of more than 30 yards in the 76th minute.

It was the perfect gift for Lee Clark, the Birmingham manager, on his 40th birthday and set the tone for the party at his Midlands home last night.

Clark said: "My birthday seems a lot sweeter now. I've got my family and friends coming down tonight and they wanted us to get a good result. They didn't want a soppy-faced 40-year-old hanging around the party."

Birmingham were content to rely on solid defence and to play on the break and manager Clark's tactics almost worked in the 10th minute when the defender Curtis Davies headed just wide from a tempting Nathan Redmond cross.

For Leeds, Rodolph Austin's strong drive was beaten away well by England goalkeeper Jack Butland on the half-hour, but a lack of fire-power, which has seen them have fewer attempts on goal than any other team in the Championship, remains a major concern for the Yorkshire club.

Neil Warnock, the Leeds manager, will point to a recent run of six unbeaten league games and a spot just outside the play-off positions and his side did at least show a renewed urgency in the second-half.

After 70 minutes El-Hadji Diouf went close and the former Liverpool striker saw his goal- bound header from Michael Tonge's superb right-wing cross saved spectacularly by Butland.

But it was Lita who provided Leeds fans with the perfect excuse to descend back into despondency when he decided the match from long range.

His delighted manager Clark said: "I was shouting for him to pass, but it was a goal once it left his foot. It went like a rocket. I'm delighted because getting any result here is difficult because Neil Warnock's teams play in-your-face football.

"We tried to nullify the effect of the crowd by being in control of the match and keeping possession. But they came at us more in the second-half and we defended well.

"Jack Butland made a good save, but we expect that of him because he's that good. It was run-of-the-mill stuff for him."

For Warnock, this was further evidence that he needs at least two new players, which explains why he wants the takeover to go through as soon as possible. But he was in a philosophical mood after the match: "That's football. We didn't deserve to lose, but they got a world-beater of a goal and it won them the game.

"The players didn't expect him to shoot from there, but they should have done.

"The league is such that you will get beat when fans expect you to win and win games when nobody expects you to win. It's up and down.

"I can't fault my players. I thought they gave everything, although we may not be good enough in certain areas.

"We need a bit of help now. Hopefully the takeover will come to the fore shortly and we can bring in a couple of players."

Leeds (4-4-2): Kenny; Byram, Pearce, Lees (White, 82), Peltier; Norris (Hall, 82), Tonge, Austin, Pugh; Becchio; Diouf.

Birmingham (4-4-2): Butland; Robinson, Davies, Caldwell, Murphy; Redmond (Burke, 67), Morrison, Mullins, Elliott; Lita, King (Spector, 90).

Referee Graham Salisbury.

Man of the match King (Birmingham).

Match rating 5/10.

Attendance 22,152.