GARRY MONK said Leeds United had survived “pressure to win” at Birmingham City last night after a smash-and-grab victory opened an 11-point gap over the sides chasing the Championship play-off positions.
Leeds fended off what Monk called an “excellent” Birmingham performance to claim a 3-1 win at St Andrew’s as two goals from Chris Wood established the prolific forward as the Championship’s top scorer.
Wood, who has 22 to his name in the league, struck either side of a Craig Gardner equaliser to set up a victory which Alfonso Pedraza secured nine minutes from time with his first goal since joining Leeds on loan from Villarreal.
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In the end we won the game comfortably but it wasn’t down to a lack of performance from Birmingham.Leeds United manager, Garry Monk
The result gave Leeds an overwhelming advantage over seventh-placed Fulham, the side directly below the Championship play-off zone and a team who Leeds play in London on Tuesday.
Monk, who was serving a one-match touchline ban at St Andrew’s and watched from the game from the stands, said: “I didn’t enjoy the first 60 minutes. We were second best, especially in the first half.
“We needed to trust ourselves a little bit more and it looked like we were a bit restricted, maybe feeling pressure to win the game, but we were playing against a very good side. I know Birmingham are where they are in the league and they’ve had a difficult run but I thought they were excellent in the first 60 minutes.
“But our mentality is so strong, to fight and defend in that pressure. We suffered too much pressure which is disappointing but in the last half-hour we were excellent.
“That was the real us and that’s what we’ve been doing and how we try to play. We looked dangerous and in the end we won the game comfortably but it wasn’t down to a lack of performance from Birmingham. They’ll feel a bit aggrieved.”
Wood opened the scoring on 15 minutes with a clever lob over goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak, moving him ahead of Newcastle United’s Dwight Gayle in the Championship’s goalscoring chart.
He struck again four minutes after Gardner’s 62nd-minute effort and his second goal deflated Birmingham. Monk’s substitutions paid off handsomely with Kalvin Phillips creating Wood’s crucial finish and Pedraza converting with a low shot eight minutes after coming off the bench.
Wood has 25 goals in all competitions and Monk said: “The first one showed improvisation and it was against the run of play as well. That gave us a lift.
“Because of the standards we set we feel a bit disappointed (with the performance) but we’re so strong mentally. When we have set-backs we come back strong. They equalised and we came straight back at them. That’s the sign of a good team.
“I’m very pleased with the points and the substitutes had a good impact. The spirit is clearly there. We’ve got a very strong winning mentality.”
Fulham host Preston North End on Saturday, with the chance to move back to within eight points of Leeds ahead of the club’s meeting at Craven Cottage next week.
Monk refused to admit that a top-six finish was almost assured, saying: “It’s three points and that’s all it is.
“I’ve said it before and it’s still the same - no-one in the league’s achieved anything, across the whole league. We have to concentrate, recover and put on a performance against Fulham on Tuesday.”
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