I set off for the station as usual to get the train at Blackwater about 10.30 and was half way down on my walk when I realised that I’d left my iPad behind. This meant I wouldn’t be able to make a start writing this drivel and more importantly I always have a book on the go to read to pass away the time traveling. Boredom was going to be an issue so I had to settle for a newspaper instead. I plumped for the Daily Mail as it had less magazine and advertising garbage in it than some of the others and unsurprisingly it was full of the latest seemingly interminable shenanigans regarding the Brexit debate in the House of Commons.
March had been a depressing month all in all with not only the disgraceful behaviour of our so called representatives trying to thwart the democratic will of the people but to the fact that those of us who care about all things blue had had to watch our lads lose five on the spin whilst they who should not be named won all five of theirs including the infamous battle of St Andrews. Blues in fairness hadn’t been playing all that badly over the period but had not been getting the breaks. Last Friday for instance a truly dreadful decision to gift the Baggies a penalty with us leading 2-1 turned the game and the score line to rob Blues of at least a point. My son Ben felt that if they hadn’t been given the penalty they don’t score their third and I suspect he may have been right.
Nevertheless, a fifth defeat it was and the nine points deduction compounded the misery although I will say now, I reckon we got off lightly! Blues now find themselves five points above the drop zone but our better goal difference yields us another point in practical terms. On the positive side, we are now in a false position and remain a better side than those teams that now surround us given the respective records over the season so now it is a matter of accepting things as they are, securing safety and starting afresh with a chance to strengthen the squad for next year.
I arrived at Coventry at about 12.30 and Emma, Chris’ daughter and little Jack’s Mum, picked me up from the station. She had her other little boy, 5-year old Seb was with her and he announced excitedly that he was coming with us to the game. I expressed delight and surprise at this (I knew already; Chris had told me on the phone earlier!) but reflected on whether we were about to inflict another lifetime of sorrow rather than joy on another human being! No, correct initiation it would have to be; after all we have to make sure that youngsters like Seb follow the path of righteousness and do not turn away from the light towards the dark side of the force!
Emma dropped me back at the Oak and whilst Chris completed his chores around the pub, I enjoyed a pint of Abbott. Chris, little Jack, Seb and yours truly set off for the ground and made good progress that was until we got near to our usual parking spot in Arthur Road. West Midlands Constabulary in their infinite wisdom decided to bring all the away coaches up from the Small Heath bypass via Bolton Road to disembark in Arthur Street. That area is a zoo at the best of times with narrow roads, cars parked hither and thither and very tight turns. Needless to say we watched twenty minutes evaporate and I got out and got the boys into the ground while Chris got parked up and joined us. We missed any chance of the braised steak at the Cookhouse as a result and had to get to our seats so not to miss kick off.
In the early exchanges Leeds saw plenty of the ball but Blues stood strong as they were going to have to in what was going to be a hard fought highly physical game. Despite the relative paucity of possession, Blues still contrived to cause Leeds a threat and Lukas Jutkiewicz went close with a header from Connor Mahoney’s cross just before the twenty minutes mark. Leeds for all their smart passing and quick play weren’t threatening Camp in the Blues goal until that is the 28th minute when a beautifully flighted inswinging free kick from about forty yards out from the right flank was volleyed onto the post by Patrick Bamford with Camp beaten. The large Leeds contingent had already started celebrating when he got his foot to it as well they might. It was a glorious free kick, I had line of sight right behind it and by rights, the centre-forward should have scored but instead Blues had a lucky let off.
The irony of football never fails to astonish us as a minute later Blues took the lead when they should have been behind. Jutkievicz had a fierce drive from the edge of the box blocked and the rebound was picked up by Maghoma who played down the left flank before turning inside to deliver a pass across the D of the area. Jutkiewicz dummied and allowed the ball to run on to Che Adams whose touch was assured before rifling his shot past the helpless Cortes in the Leeds goal. St Andrews erupted and for the first time in proceedings, the away end went quiet, admittedly not for long. Chances continued to be few and far between but the events were still watchable.
Che Adams had another chance on 39 minutes from Jutkiewicz’s headed pass but shot straight at Cortes and the chance was gone. Alioski had a decent chance to restore parity for the visitors in time added on but he pulled his shot wide to Camp’s relief and the whistle blasted for half-time.
We had peeled off to be in the queue early in an attempt to get little Seb a drink at least and all of us something to eat. The braised steak was finished so it would have to be a Pukka pie. I seem to repeat myself about the catering service but it is truly abysmal; the clueless numpties we have at St Andrews providing service actually make our Members of Parliament look competent! I was right at the front of the queue and it took over fifteen minutes to be served even though I was in the FastPay queue. Every year on feedback I complain bitterly about the level of service in the catering areas and every year nothing happens to improve it. I have resolved to write to the club under separate cover about this issue and I’ll keep everyone posted.
The second half commenced and in less than two minutes Che Adams supplied a sublime through ball for Jutkiewicz who ran on to the edge of the box with only Cortes to beat. The keeper made a brilliant save but I felt the big man should have buried this chance; they rarely come better. Harlee Dean nearly doubled Blues lead with a header from the right side following a nice cross from Mahoney but the ball was saved by Cortes, who was having a fine match, in the bottom left hand corner. It was ironic that Blues were creating all the chances despite having little of the possession.
Leeds gave a warning just how slender the home side’s lead was when Stuart Dallas got in down the left and pulled the ball back to Patrick Bamford eight yards out. His connection was fortunately underneath the ball and the shot flew over the bar. Once again, the centre-forward should have scored this; perhaps it was to be our day after all, he usually scores against us doesn’t he?
Then came the low point in the game; a heavy tackle on Maikel Kieftenbeld in midfield by two Leeds defenders left the Blues man in a crumpled heap. A three minutes delay as the stretcher was called for, loaded up and carried off confirmed the injury to be a bad one. There appeared to be no mal-intent by the tacklers and I think this was a matter of misfortune in a highly combative contest. Wes Harding came on as replacement and the impressive Maxime Colin pushed up into midfield.
Urgency was showing more in Leeds United’s play as they pushed for the equaliser and it was an uncomfortable watch. I had that sinking feeling that a goal for the visitors was coming although in the main Blues were restricting Leeds to attempts outside the box such as Luke Ayling’s high, wide and handsome shot with three quarters of the game gone. Crosses were raining in and from one by Tyler Roberts; Patrick Bamford’s goal bound header into the top right hand corner was brilliantly saved by Lee Camp. This to my mind was the turning point of the second half; I truly believe that if that one goes in, Leeds would in all probability have gone on to win. Leeds attempts became more frenetic and desperate as the precious equaliser just wouldn’t come.
It was all hands to the pump as Pontus Jannson had a fierce shot blocked and cleared and even the imperious Pablo Hernandez buried his direct free kick into the wall from a range that he is normally so deadly. Following this flurry Leeds continued to have the lion’s share of possession (73% overall!) and yet they struggled to carve out the chance that mattered. Their quest to force the issue left them open to the break and Blues had fine chances to put the matter beyond doubt with excellent chances for Che Adams on 80 and 85 minutes, Michael Morrison just after and David Davis in the six minutes of time added on. Mr Dean’s whistle brought an end to proceedings in the 97th minute and Blues had their deserved win.
It was a terrific game against a side that I believe will be playing their football in the Premier League next season. Their fans, as ever were loud, supportive and did everything they could to aid their team’s efforts. They turn up in numbers regardless of how good or bad Leeds United are and deserve to go back to the top flight; a massive club who belong there, I wish them well.
The Good: The performance, the win and the fighting qualities shown to achieve it.
The Bad: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; THE CATERING!!!!!!!!
The Ugly: Maikel Kieftenbeld’s injury; get well soon big man.
Birmingham City: Lee Camp 7, Maxime Colin 7, Michael Morrison 7, Harlee Dean 7, Krystian Pedersen 7, Jacques Maghoma 5, Gary Gardner 6 (David Davis 45, 6) Maikel Kieften beld 7 (Wes Harding 57, 6) Connor Mahoney 7 (Jota 76, 6) Lukas Jutkiewicz 6, Che Adams 8.
Subs not used: Connal Trueman, Kerim Mrabti, Issac Vassell, Marc Roberts.
Yellow cards: Dean 48.
Leed United: Francisco Casilla Cortes 8, Luke Ayling 7, Liam Cooper 7, Pontus Jannson 7, Ezgjan Alioski 7, Mateus Klich 6 (Jack Clarke 70, 6) Tyler Roberts 7, Kalvin Phillips 6, Pablo Hernadez Domingez 7, Jack Harrison 6 (Stuart Dallas 45, 7) Patrick Bamford 5 (Kemar Roofe 70, 6)
Subs not used: Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Gaetano Berardi, Adam Forshaw, Jamie Shackleton.
Yellow cards: Alioski 30, Jansson 76, Hernandez 83.
Referee: Mike Dean 8; I thought Mr Dean had an excellent game. He refereed what was on paper a potentially difficult appointment decisively, efficiently and with the minimum of fuss. He was fair, allowed plenty of physical contact within the laws of the game and let the game flow. Mike Dean has been one of England’s top officials for well over twenty years and although like all human beings he has had his off days, this was not one of them. I understand he is 50 years old but still exhibits supreme fitness to keep up with what is a fast sport. He was hardly noticed in what was a very good game and that is generally a sign of a good referee.