|Leeds United 3 v 0 Birmingham City
Monday, 1st January 2024 Kick-off 15:00
Leeds win to hammer the final nail into Rooney’s coffin
Tuesday, 2nd Jan 2024 22:25 by Tim Whelan
Leeds needed a win after losing two successive defeats away from home, and the fixture list was kind enough to send us the worst team we have faced all season, Wayne Rooney’s disorganised and demoralised Birmingham City.
When I first saw Rooney at Elland Road in 2002 he had just broken into the Everton side as a 17-year-old, and was to score one of the best known goals of his early career, a superb solo effort that brought his side a 1-0. But I think it’s fair to say that he won’t have enjoyed yesterday's encounter quite so much.
Abuse rained down on him throughout the game, and when the fans of his own team joined in, he must have known the game was up. Most of it was funny, but I didn’t agree with the “we want you to stay” chant, now that we don’t play them again this season. I wanted him gone so that an improved Birmingham would face Ipswich and Southampton in February and March, and this morning my wish was granted.
We had a few concerns of our own before the start, with Struijk still injured, and Darlow having the misfortune to have injured his thumb just as his opportunity had come to get a few more games. So Klaesson would get his first ever start for Leeds, though he’d done well when he came off the bench at Wolves the season before last.
I was surprised that Gray was recalled at right back in place of the more experienced Spence, and the other change was in attack, with Piroe dropped to the bench and Rutter playing in a deeper role behind the recalled Bamford. It’s not yet clear if this was a bit of rotation or Bamford will keep his place, but there’s no doubt Rutter is far more suited to this position.
And another change was needed after only 18 minutes, with Byram’s latest comeback coming to an end, and Firpo taking to the field. Which did of course give us a bit of anxiety, but for most of the game Birmingham were too poor to take advantage of his failings in defence, and he was able to do what he does best and to get forward down the left flank.
For the first half hour our performance seemed a bit lacklustre and the crowd a bit subdued, perhaps through too many hangovers and a bit of end-of-holiday blues. Birmingham’s only tactics were to sit deep and waste as much time as they could, and I thought it might be yet another game when we struggle to break the opposition down.
Our best chance in the opening stages came when Summerville burst into the area but sent his shot straight at Ruddy, and James’ shot from the rebound was blocked. At the other end they did manage a promising break, but the chance was snuffed out through a combination of Rodon’s excellent anticipation and the striker taking a poor touch at the vital moment. And finally we took the lead in the 34th minute.
A ball to the right found James in plenty of space, and he took the opportunity to chip an excellent cross to the far post. Birmingham’s marking was no better in the centre, so although the ball was slightly behind Bamford he had no problem getting his header on target. Ruddy got a hand to it and should perhaps have kept it out, but it finished in the roof of the net for Bamford’s first goal of the season.
There was still time before the break for Birmingham to create their best chance so far. Dembele turned and then went past Gray, but Klasson got down well to make his first save of the game, before being congratulated by just about everyone in the Leeds team for doing so. If that was a sign the game wasn’t yet done and dusted, there would be another warning as soon as the second half began.
Dembele’s through ball put Bacuna through on goal, but his shot clipped the bar and went behind. The referee gave a goal kick, but Bacuna suggested Klaesson must have got a touch, and to be on the safe side the scoreboard wasn’t going to show a replay before play had restarted. We clearly needed a third goal to seal the victory, and it nearly came a few minutes later.
Bamford played the ball forward to Summerville, and when the Dutchman ran into three defenders and lost the ball it came straight back to Bamford his shot cannoned off the post. The rebound fell nicely for James, who should have done better than to slice his shot into Buchanan’s face. It was a painful one for the defender, who needn’t have got in the way as it was going well wide.
But we finally got the third goal in the 67th minute. After a neat series of passes in midfield Rutter scooped the ball forward to Firpo, who moved into the area and picked out Summerville. Bamford had of course run well offside, but at least had the awareness to just manage to keep out the way of Summerville’s shot as it flew into the corner of the net.
With the points in the bag Farke took the opportunity to give some players a bit more rest, and all three goalscorers came off, with Piroe, Gnonto and Anthony taking their place. Ten minutes later our final change saw Poveda come on for Rutter. We were still creating chances to increase our lead, and Firpo sent a header crashing against the post from a corner.
The final kick of the game was a free kick from just outside the area after Gnonto was fouled. Piroe might have read my comments about hammering every free kick into the wall, as this time he tried something else, but this time he blasted it high and well wide. Anthony seems to be the dedicated set piece taker when he’s on the field, so why didn’t he have a go?
The result closed the gap on Ipswich and Southampton who both drew, although both were playing away from home. We will have far more difficult games to play in the months to come, but at win’s a win, and it does at least give us a bit of confidence to build on as we move into 2024.
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