|Leeds United 1 v 2 Birmingham City|
Saturday, 22nd September 2018 Kick-off 15:00
Bielsa admits tactical error as unbeaten record goes
Sunday, 23rd Sep 2018 22:02 by Tim Whelan
A large expectant crowd were left only with crushing disappointment as Birmingham City became the first team to beat Leeds in the league this season.
Leeds were unchanged for the second of two games this week that we were expected to win to establish a bit of a lead at the top of the table. Garry Monk’s Birmingham were yet to win this season, and he got some predictable abuse from the crowd due to the manner of his departure from the Elland Road hot seat.
But Monk had done his homework on his former club and his side were well drilled and set out to work hard and frustrate Leeds from the start. The opening ten minutes reminded me of the Preston game, when we had struggled to win possession inside our own half before going on to a comfortable win. But this time it would be different, as the opposition were able to take a shock lead in the 8th minute.
Birmingham were able to pass the ball around unchallenged as they approached the edge of the Leeds area, but when Adams shot without much power I was expecting Peacock-Farrell to make a routine save. Yet for some reason he dived the wrong way as the ball curled past him into the net. It looked like a bad error, though it’s possible the ball took a slight deflection off Jansson as he tried to block the shot.
Leeds began to try to establish a foothold in the game and were able to dominate possession, with Birmingham content to get plenty of men behind the ball, but without creating any decent chances. Then we fell further behind by conceding another soft goal in the 29th minute.
Adams was allowed to pick up a pass on the edge of the area despite the presence four Leeds defenders in front of him, and after a quick turn to wrong-foot Douglas he sent a fairly tame shot in off the far post. Shortly afterwards Bielsa responded by making his first substation, with Dallas coming on for Phillips.
The Argentinian admitted afterwards that it had been a tactical error to have Phillips playing as a third central defender, as he looked rather lost and this seemed to unsettle the whole defence. Though I’m not sure why he couldn’t have changed formation by pushing Phillips further forward, rather than using one of his three changes.
After reverting to a back four Leeds showed a bit more urgency and could have pulled one back when a ball ran through to Alioski on the far side of the area, but the Macedonian could only blaze well over the bar. Unlike the Preston match, when we had the luxury of being able to miss a couple of good chances, we really needed this effort to go in to get ourselves back into the game.
It could have got even worse at the other end, with a shot deflecting off Alioski, but thankfully looping onto the roof of the net rather than inside it. And from the resulting corner BPF made partial amends for his earlier error by making a fine save from Maghoma. By now, Birmingham players had gone down for injuries several times, and they had begun to take their time over restarting play after every stoppage.
So three minutes were added on to the first half, and there was plenty more of that stuff to come. As we approached the break Cooper flicked on from a corner, and the ball just eluded a diving Roberts at the far post. I also remember a free header being sent wide, but I couldn’t pick out who that was from my vantage point on the Kop, and that that chance didn’t make the TV highlights.
And in the second half it was more of the same, with Leeds dominating the possession and Saiz busy as ever, but the crisp passing moves we’ve enjoyed in the season so far were mostly absent this time. Instead we seemed to specialise in overhit passes out to the wings, which Alioski and Harrison would have no chances of collecting before they sailed into touch.
By the 72nd minute Bielsa had made his other two changes, with Forshaw coming on for Klich, and young Ryan Edmundson replacing Douglas. Edmundson took up the centre forward role with Roberts dropping deeper, but in truth Roberts had been drifting wide throughout the game. He’d certainly worked hard, but I’m old fashioned enough to want a lone striker to get into the box where he might score.
The substitutes were involved in some of the best chances we created late on, with a long range shot from Forshaw forcing Camp into a save, and a knock down from Edmundson leading to a Dallas shot that went just wide. And still the Birmingham injuries kept coming, with one player clutching his head to force the ref to stop the game and end a promising Leeds move, even though it seemed it was his leg that was actually hurt.
Leeds finally pulled a goal back in the 85th, after a long ball from Saiz picked out an unmarked Alioski inside the area, and his shot found it’s way into the far corner of the net. In time honoured fashion we grabbed the ball and raced back to the halfway line, eager to salvage something from the game in the time that remained.
And there was plenty of that, as the ref finally booked one of their players for taking too long over a throw-in, and then signalled that eight minutes on injury time would be added on. And we so nearly snatched a draw as a neat turn from Dallas on the edge of the box took him past a defender and get a shot in, but Camp did very well to get down and turn it round the post.
And shortly after that time really had run out, though I thought the game should have been extended still more, for further time-wasting inside the eight minutes. So it was that Birmingham picked up their first win of the season, and perhaps Monk will repeat the pattern of his year at Leeds, packing the midfield after a poor start, leading to improved results and a move up the table.
From our perspective, we could point to the key players we had missing through injury, but this is still a game that most of us would have expected us to win. Miraculously we have remained on top of the table, though we will now have our doubts about whether the squad will have enough depth to keep us there. This might just have been a bad day at the office, but we’ll need a big improvement when we go to Hillsborough on Friday night.
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