By Andrew Butterwick
Tuesday night football is not usually kind to Leeds United so as I travelled down to Birmingham for this cup replay I wasn't feeling that optimistic. It might have had something to do with "that" performance at
Barnsley but my mood mellowed as the inevitable pre match thoughts started to surge through my brain. If we can just stop Zigic..........yes I know we never have but there's always a first time I reasoned. and if we could just manage a couple of shots on goal we might just sneak it? As I wasn't even convincing myself I decided the best course of action was to have some amber nectar to dull reality!
By the time the Happy Chocker and brother Chris had joined me in the Ibis bar I was slightly more optimistic but with a heavy dose of foreboding. Then I saw the team. No Becchio. Varney starts with Brown and Austin in midfield. Ross Mac and Diouf up front with Pelts and Lees at centre half. Drury started at left back. Cyberspace exploded. "Becchio's gone" screamed the Twitter wire. "Just seen Becchio at Wigan" shouted one tweet. What's he doing there I wondered, Wigan are at Bournemouth! If the fans were in revolting mood before the team was announced they were now verging on mutinous tinged with a good sense of gallows humour. I think it's safe to say expectations were a touch low amongst the 1,500 travelling away support in a woeful 8,000 crowd.
The game kicked off with our nemesis, Zigic, thankfully on the bench. Good call Lee Clark! With the non existent crowd the atmosphere was strange to say the least although the good natured Leeds fans did
there bit to create some noise on a freezing cold evening. The opening exchanges were scrappy. Leeds seemed to have a bit more urgency about them than on Saturday but chances were few and far between as the Leeds fans longed for a shot on goal or a corner, something they failed to do against Barnsley. Michael Brown was prominent, chasing and pressing the Blues midfield at every opportunity. He's not the most skillful player to ever pull on a white shirt but he does give a 100%. Leeds soon lost Drury through injury to be replaced by Aidy White. No side created anything of note in the first 20 minutes but it was the Blues who looking slightly the more lively of 2 hesitant teams. Marlon King led the line for the home team but was well shackled by Tom Lees. Up front Leeds still hadn't managed a shot on goal but Austin had worried the Brum fans sat behind the Leeds goal a couple of times.
Just after the half hour Leeds were split open down their left flank as Redmond got to the bye line before picking out Wade Elliot who was unmarked at the back post to slot home the opening goal. 1.0 Brum. Bollox. We hadn't been sparkling but we didn't deserve to be behind. The home support suddenly found their voice and there was an all too familiar feel to this away trip. We were losing again.
Then Varney escaped his marker in the box but couldn't direct his header goalwards. Should have been 1.1. That gave us a smidgen of hope but it didn't stop the away fans taunting the few home fans who had turned up with "how shit are you you've only got one goal" As the game meandered to half time there was already a heavy sense of resignation amongst the fans born out of watching Leeds United too many times this season. Half Time 1.0 Birmingham but we had won a corner.
The mood amongst the Leeds fans at half time was similar to what you find in a crowded dentist's waiting room. A lot of nervous people not looking forward to the pain that was about to engulf them.
Then something quite unexpected happened. Leeds started to play football. They were passing more than 3 times to players in a white shirt and low and behold they started to get on top of their midlands rivals. Excitement began to seep through the frozen pores of the Leeds fans as they gradually realised we might just get back into this game. Green was suddenly all over the pitch, Diouf was at his skilful best teasing the opposition, even Rudy Austin started to play well. Brown continued his sterling work tackling and pressing and Ross Mac began to get into the game. Varney was working hard and getting good reward as he pressurised a wilting back line. This all coincided with keeping the ball on the floor. Not sure if that had anything to do with it though?
Buoyed by the positiveness on the pitch and shots actually reaching their target the Leeds fans roared their much maligned heroes on. Doyle in the Birmingham goal was suddenly working overtime as Leeds fed on the adrenaline rush that shooting on target brings. A goal was coming and on 70 minutes Leeds got rich reward as another sweeping attack down the Leeds right saw the ball crossed to the back post where Diouf controlled it before rolling it to Ross Mac who slotted home the equaliser. 1.1 and game on.
Leeds were now on fire passing the ball around like they'd done it all season, which they haven't, as they went for the exposed Birmingham jugular. Green should have buried a chance from the edge of the box after good work by Varney before Leeds were awarded a penalty for handball with 15 minutes remaining. The assistant referee gave the penalty after Robinson had handled a dangerous cross. Diouf stepped up and chipped the ball home. 2.1 Leeeeeeeeeds. The away fans were now in ecstasy! Who said we'd no chance?
Then Zigic got stripped. No not the giant assassin who always scores against Leeds! Sure enough within a minute his tall gangling frame got on the end of a cross and headed goal wards.........Noooooooooooooooo! I shouted as a Leeds head bobbed up and headed away. Minutes later Ashdown pulled off a fantastic save to deny Birmingham. Nerves were fraying but just 3 minutes of added time stood between Leeds and a plum 4th round tie against Spurs. Pearce replaced Diouf to shore up the defence as Leeds dug in for an unlikely victory. Full time 2.1 Leeds. Unbelievable. What a change from Saturday as the players were cheered from the field.
Leeds fully deserved their victory on the basis of a positive 2nd half performance in which they dominated the game. Brown and Varney exceeded expectations. Lees was outstanding at the back and even Pelts played well at centre half. Diouf and Green did well and Ross Mac finished a lot brighter than he started.........but then again that's when we played the ball on the floor. Special mention to Ashdown in the goal. He never let's us down. So remarkably it was Leeds fans with smiles on their faces as they left the stadium. By what I could hear Lee Clark is not that well liked in the Blue half of Birmingham.
Bring on the Spurs....................it would seem we're on another cup run? Delicious!