Leeds produced yet another uninspiring display at Elland Road, resulting in a 1-1 draw with Birmingham City and an unwanted FA Cup third round replay. A run of five consecutive home victories was brought to an end in spite of a second half strike from Luciano Becchio, which continues his fine goal scoring streak.
Shortly before kick-off, new director and owner David Haigh tweeted that he was “Looking forward to the match”. Unfortunately, it seems that he was in the minority, as a lowly sum of 11,000 supporters filed into the stadium. Those who had made the effort to attend were hardly vociferous in their encouragement, with one fan stood near me commenting that he could ‘hear a pin drop’.
Dare I suggest that many hoped we would lose the match and get our minds back to the promotion push? So much for the magic of the FA Cup.
The narrative during the days preceding the tie was one of sickness and depletion. ‘Virus decimates camp’ cried the official website, with the most notable sick note being that belonging to Neil Warnock himself who was too ill to attend. On the day, the team were left under the stewardship of Assistant Manager Mick Jones and First Team Coach Ronnie Jepson.
The mediocre performance during the victory over Bolton on New Year’s Day was blamed upon the spreading plague and perhaps the lacklustre nature of this cup draw can be considered in the same terms.
The starting line-up saw Jamie Ashdown replace Paddy Kenny, as per usual for cup matches. Adam Drury and Tom Lees took up the full back positions either side of Jason Pearce and Alan Tate, with regular full backs Lee Peltier and Sam Byram being rested on the bench. Midfield appeared to be the area most affected by illness, with Rodolph Austin and Paul Green both missing from the squad. David Norris and Michael Brown were flanked by Aidy White and Ryan Hall, who was given his first chance to shine since the confirmation of his permanent transfer from Southend United. In attack, a familiar partnership from last season were reunited as Becchio was joined by Ross McCormack, with El Hadji Diouf watching from the dugout.
Since returning from injury, McCormack’s form has been a concern. Yesterday, being played from the start in his favoured position, was a big chance for the Scot to recapture his cutting edge from last season. However, his performance was characterised by being caught in possession frequently, firing over the bar aimlessly and often playing cross-field balls which sailed harmlessly out of play. This is likely a harsh assessment of one player, as the whole team toiled somewhat, but the level of expectation is high with McCormack. Hopefully his quality will soon resurface to match his undoubtedly excellent level of commitment.
Lee Clark’s Birmingham, who won 1-0 at Elland Road earlier in the season, lined up without a recognised striker. Instead, they opted for a side packed with pacey and skilful midfielders such as Ravel Morrison and Nathan Redmond.
The match itself was quite an open one, though a lack of real quality meant that few chances were created over the ninety minutes.
Jason Pearce came closest within the opening twenty minutes as his downward header from a free kick came back off the post. Another good opportunity fell to David Norris, but his shot from close range was well saved. Norris proved to be Leeds’ most creative and effective player of the opening peroid.
At the other end Birmingham were struggling to get men in the penalty area, as you might expect of a side playing without a striker. All of their forays towards the Leeds goal consisted of running at Pearce and Tate before unleashing long range strikes, many of which were repelled efficiently by Ashdown.
However, Birmingham took the lead shortly after the half-hour mark as Wade Elliott’s long-ranger found the top corner.
Losing at half-time, Leeds made a double substitution. The ineffective wide men White and Hall were replaced by Sam Byram and El Hadji Diouf. This change meant McCormack was pushed back into midfield as Diouf was positioned up front.
It would transpire after the match that these substitutions were dictated by Warnock from his sickbed, who delivered his half-time team talk by speakerphone based on his appraisal having listened to commentary on Yorkshire Radio. Perhaps Thom Kirwin and Eddie Gray deserve some credit for the second half fight back that would ensue.
Birmingham continued to threaten from distance, lashing over the bar and narrowly wide of the post. But Leeds managed to snatch the equaliser on the hour. Norris managed to find Luciano Becchio in the penalty area and the Argentine took a touch before planting a right-foot shot across the goalkeeper and into the bottom corner. It was good to see the Leeds top scorer finish with his right foot, as so many of his goals usually spring from his preferred left foot or lethal heading ability.
As the match edged towards a conclusion, Leeds threw the dice in an attempt to avoid an undesirable replay. Davide Somma was thrown on at the expense of Alan Tate, leaving Warnock’s men with four strikers on the pitch at the same time.
However, despite a flurry of late corners, no real chances would emerge and Leeds will travel to Birmingham on Tuesday 15th to decide who will compete in the fourth round.
Based on today’s support, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few are quietly hoping that Leeds make a quiet exit next week and divert attentions back to the play-off push…
Thank you to all who entered my ‘predict the score’ competition on Twitter. Nobody predicted a draw, so no winner this time. Send your predictions for the next home match to me at @Matt_K_Burton.