Leeds' courage no match for Carter's striking qualities

Birmingham City 3 Leeds United 0
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The Independent Football

The taxman is still owed £1.2m, plus £500,000 in VAT. Ex-players await pay-offs running into seven figures. Going into administration, being docked 10 points and plunged into the relegation zone cannot be discounted. For all that, and the superiority of a Birmingham City side inspired by Darren Carter, Leeds United showed that a loss in talent has been offset by gains in team spirit.

Unlike the supine assortment who were overrun at St Andrew's last spring, some of whom now play for Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham, Newcastle and Middlesbrough, Kevin Blackwell's low-budget Leeds never gave up. If the margin of defeat was identical, the way this injury-ravaged side kept coming back at Birmingham at least reflected the noisy defiance of their followers.

Whether Leeds still possess saleable assets of any significance - other than their goalkeepers Neil Sullivan and Scott Carson - is debatable. However, in a line-up littered with players making FA Cup debuts, Danny Pugh, Simon Walton, Aaron Lennon and, in particular, Frazer Richardson all enhanced their reputations against Premiership opponents. Where they could not match Birmingham, as Blackwell conceded, was in the quality of their finishing.

The Leeds manager's assertion that there was little between the teams "apart from the goals" may have had echoes of the response to the question "What have the Romans ever done for us?" Yet with 12 corners to their name, you knew what he meant. Emile Heskey's opening goal, for which he lifted the ball deftly over the onrushing Sullivan, highlighted the difference in composure and touch at an early stage. It was underlined by a perhaps unexpected source in Carter.

The 21-year-old's first goal was accomplished enough, but his clinching strike, with Leeds pushing hard, was a model of technique and timing. After Birmingham broke up an attack, Carter surged from his own half before burying Clinton Morrison's pass with a first-time flourish. Steve Bruce's coach, Eric Black, felt the midfielders's self-belief had burgeoned on loan at Sunderland. "He showed everything a modern midfielder needs," the Scot said, also praising Morrison for assists on every goal.

Birmingham, already relatively assured of staying up, could be a good outside bet to win the trophy for the first time. Leeds return to Championship reality next week against Cardiff, who famously dumped them from the Cup three years ago when they led the Premiership. "With this club," said Blackwell when asked about transfers and take-overs, "who knows what's round the corner?"

Goals: Heskey (11) 1-0; Carter (21) 2-0; Carter (65) 3-0.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Melchiot, Cunningham, Upson, Lazaridis (Clapham, 40); Anderton (Tebily, 77), Carter, Clemence, Gray; Morrison, Heskey (R Blake, 67). Substitutes not used: Vaesen (gk), Yorke.

Leeds United (4-3-2-1): Sullivan; Kelly, Duberry (Pugh, 22), Kilgallon, Richardson; Wright, Gregan, Walton; Lennon, Healy; N Blake (Joachim, 19). Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Ricketts, Griffit.

Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire).

Bookings: Birmingham: Upson.

Man of the match: Morrison.

Attendance: 25,159.