By Andrew Butterwick
Even by Leeds United's standards this week has been "eventful" The annual ritual sacrifice of the club captain went through with Warnock departing to the East Midlands to bolster Derby's promotion challenge whilst Mr Redfearn was telling anybody who would listen that he needed an input of players with championship experience to bolster our relegation fight. At the same time Mr Cellino was up before the tribunal hearing his appeal against the Football League's banning order which apparently stopped any incoming transfers/loans.
Consequently cyber space was eagerly devouring the Civil War between the different factions of Leeds fans fighting each other over the best way forward for their once great club. As if that wasn't enough we even managed to find our own version of Ched Evans as ex Leeds man, Simon Lenighan, found himself in court answering rape charges. If only the club could do what "it says on the tin" of their magnificent anthem and March on Together life would be a lot easier?
Despite the off the field tribulations the Happy Chocker, Quiet One and yours truly found ourselves scuttling down Elland Road trying to keep out the sleet and cold as we looked forward to our clash with Birmingham City. The blues arrived in West Yorkshire in a rich vein of form that had seen them chalk up 5 victories in their last 6 games whilst Leeds have to go back 7 games to find their last victory bizarrely against Derby who are the one team to have beaten City in their current run. Rustling up some pre match optimism was going to be difficult but as ever with help of an odd swig of the amber nectar we gradually summoned up the unlikely vision of a 2.1 win for the mighty whites!
Redfearn shuffled his pack once again bringing Antenucci back in favour of the unlucky Sloth and Scott Wootton replacing the injured Berardi at right back with the Leeds head coach preferring a more attacking 4-4-2 formation to the more conservative one's he'd deployed at Sunderland and Bolton. Murphy, Austin, Morison and Wootton all starting for Leeds. Now you wouldn't have seen that coming a few weeks ago! Wow!
The game kicked off with a pristine pitch despite the wintry weather. Leeds started brightly as they attacked the packed South Stand. Austin tried his luck with a speculative shot after good work by Wootton who had slotted in nicely at full back after good reviews from his time at Rotherham. Minutes later the eager front man, Morison, fooled the Brum defence as he chested down a Murphy cross but he drilled his half volley just past the post and into the stand. Having struggled to create chances of late two had come in the first 5 minutes. Things were looking good...............that is until Birmingham broke quickly releasing the ex Hull, Harrogate Town, Scarborough, Halifax, York, Hibs, Crewe and Brentford man, Clayton Donaldson, who tempted Liam Cooper into a rash challenge in the box..............stonewall penalty with only the most one eyed home fans protesting. Caddis converted the spot kick with ease and all of a sudden there were dark clouds circling over Elland Road in more ways than one. 1.0 Birmingham.
The goal was a real kick in the teeth for Leeds and to their credit they didn't let the goal affect their game plan as they tried a more direct approach to breaking down the Blues defence with Morison to the fore. Birmingham looked dangerous on the break though as both Cotterill and Shinnie pulled shots wide from outside the box. Leeds were pushing for an early reply though and soon Wootton headed wide from a corner when he should have hit the target. Mmmm maybe it was going to be one of those days? It certainly looked like it as first Morison had a header drop into the arms of the Brummie keeper before Antenucci went close with a flick from the ex Millwall frontman's header. Just to keep things in perspective Silvestri pulled off a superb save from a Gleeson screamer to keep the deficit at just the one goal.
Chances began to flow for Leeds with Cook on the left wing causing problems and Murphy in particular showing some real graft and guile in midfield. Antenucci and Morison combined to test Randolph at the near post before Bellusci somehow missed a volleyed effort from a Murphy free kick from 6 yards as he watched in disbelief as the Brummie keeper poked it clear. Definitely not our day in front of goal. Birmingham however looked like a team who were on a productive run and before half time Silvestri need to fling himself to his right to keep out a Davis shot. Another goal then would have killed Leeds off but the half time whistle went with the score still 1.0 to the visitors.
The urinal philosophers were very subdued. A mixture of the cold weather and scoreline kept comments down to a minimum but one frustrated fan got some puzzled looks as he announced "that Morison's shite Becchio would have had a hat trick" as he reflected on probably Morison's best 45 minutes in a Leeds shirt.
Nerves were certainly frayed in the crowd as the 2nd half got underway. A 2nd Birmingham goal would be a bridge too far for Leeds but could we convert any of the chances on offer? An Austin free kick driven into the wall didn't do much to lift the spirits but on 50 minutes Leeds the majority of home fans thought Morison had grabbed the oh so important equaliser as he drifted onto a lovely cross from Cook only to see his header bounce back off the inside of the post into the motionless Randolph's arms. Bollox! It was definitely one of those days.
Leeds stuck to their task manfully although it wasn't pretty Leeds started to gain some momentum going forward. Murphy came hurtling onto a ball and danced round a lunging tackle but hit his left foot shot wide. Then Morison came within a millimetre of scoring when he poked a loose ball just past the post. On the hour mark Redfearn withdrew the hard working Antenucci to send on Billy Sharp as Leeds pushed hard for the equaliser. In doing so they left themselves exposed at the back as Brum nearly sprung the perfect smash and grab as Donaldson hit the post with a header.
Soon the home crowd were baying for a penalty as Byram had his legs whipped away from him in the box. Play on waved the referee to the incredulity of 22,000 fans. It was definitely one of those days! Sharp looked eager to please as he added a different dimension to the Leeds front two. Morison was now winning everything thrown into the box and surely it was only a matter of time before we equalised? Time was running out for the home team though and on 77 minutes Doukara replaced Cook as Leeds went for bust with a 4-3-3 formation and threw caution to the wind as they went in search of a priceless goal. Sharp wriggled a shot away inside the box before both Byram and Sharp got free on the penalty spot to pick up a chip from Murphy but the linesman's flag saved Byram the embarrassment of a poor finish.
The clock was ticking agonisingly towards 90 minutes as Leeds continued to push for the equaliser. Byram made another run down the right and found space for the cross................Morison climbed high at the far post but the ball ricocheted off a Birmingham defender into the path of Murphy who skillfully steered the ball into the net to the delight of the home fans. Get innnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn! 1.1. Elland Road was bouncing as Leeds went for the winner and with two minutes to go we should have had it as a clear handball not 5 yards from the referee's nose by a Birmingham defender in the box was somehow ignored by the weak official. PENALTY followed by multiple expletives screamed the kop.............all to no avail. There was still time for Murphy to test Randolph again in the Brum goal but the game ended all square thanks to a stirring comeback from Leeds.
Murphy was my man of the match after a hugely impressive display in the centre of midfield closely followed by Morison who rattled the Brummie defenders all afternoon and was unlucky not to get on the score sheet. Now that's a sentence I didn't think I would be writing this season! The late equaliser sent the fans away both happy and frustrated as we streamed away from Elland Road. We definitely had enough chances to win the game and on another day we would have done but when you're in a relegation fight nothing seems to go your way. Despite all the upheaval off the pitch at least the team are still united and willing to battle for the cause on the evidence of today's display.
High flying Bournemouth next up at Elland Road on Tuesday night. That's another sentence I didn't think I would ever write. Can we do the double over the League Leaders? Course we can!