Full marks for spirit and belief ... but, defensively, could do better reckons our jury after Leeds United’s close-call win at Birmingham City
IT took a while for The Yorkshire Evening Post jurors to get their breath back after such an exhilarating encounter with Birmingham City at St Andrew’s this evening.
But once they did, each agreed the Championship encounter would have been a “thriller” for the neutral and a nightmare for the Elland Road club’s defence coaches.
And they road the rollercoaster of emotions to see out the year – and a decade – with Leeds United sitting atop the Championship table.
Phew, we can all breathe a huge sigh of relief.
There were parts of that game that certainly weren’t pretty but the three points will be worth the agony.
Particularly after West Brom dropped three points themselves, there won’t be too many times that happens this season. The opening two goals gave the illusion that this would be a ‘routine afternoon’ for the Whites but it proved to be anything but that.
In recent weeks, Leeds have looked less-than secure at the back and that was the case again here.
There were faults for the majority of the goals, but United were unlucky to concede four. But they always say, the best form of defence is offence. Marcelo Bielsa will be pleased that the goals came from all over the park.
Stuart Dallas bagged his second in as many games while Luke Ayling looked overjoyed at his fine strike.
United will be hoping for more of the same just a few miles west on Wednesday at The Hawthorns.
Man of the match: Jack Harrison.
The old proverb says ‘don’t get angry, get even’. Man of the match Luke Ayling did both and more besides.
Still, let’s start at the beginning. Leeds powered into a two-goal lead with fine efforts from Helder Costa on the break and Jack Harrison on the bounce.
It was all looking okay until Jude Bellingham snatched one back for Birmingham.
With no sign of what was to follow, United hung on to a nervous lead until the 61st minute when the muscular Lukas Jutkiewicz levelled the scores. This prompted the home fans into a chorus of the hated ‘Leeds are falling apart’ song.
This was too much for Ayling who shot up the pitch to almost burst the net with a fine solo effort. This lead lasted for another 14 minutes, enough time for the Leeds fans to sing the stupid song themselves.
Then came Bela (83) 3-3, Dallas (84) 3-4, Jutkiewicz (90+1) 4-4. This was all too much for the bold Luke. He burst into the box and sent in a killer cross which Miles Harding could only turn into his own net (90+5) 4-5.
Man of the match: Luke Ayling.
An unbelievable game at St Andrew’s which saw Leeds grab an injury-time winner in a nine-goal ‘thriller’ in the Midlands.
In all my years as a fan, I’ve seen only one game that ran this close, back in the first season in Division One when Leeds lost to Liverpool by the same score after being 4-1 down. It was pretty amazing to watch and, although we struggled at set-pieces with a very tall team, who can question the attitude of this current Leeds team after that?
The will to keep going for the win until the last whistle was there for all to see.
Marcelo Bielsa gave Eddie Nketiah his first Championship start as Patrick Bamford missed out owing to injury. Leeds were trying to make up for a disappointing run of three games that had yielded only two points.
And Leeds were two up inside the first 25 minutes. First, Helder Costa finished off a wonderful move involving Jack Harrison. ‘The Harrison’ doubled the lead on 21. You’d have thought City were out of this contest but they got one back before the half-hour mark.
Incredibly, Birmingham levelled matters just after the hour when Jutkiewicz, a regular thorn in Leeds’ side, scoring the goal. The goal fest continued with Ayling putting Leeds ahead once again with a sublime shot only for City to make it three all with a header from Bela. The goals continued with midweek hero Stuart Dallas once again putting United ahead with six minutes to go, but City wouldn’t lie down and Jutkiewicz doubled his tally with an injury-time equaliser.
Surely Leeds didn’t have enough to get the winner, but they did, Costa’s ball caused mayhem in the Birmingham six-yard box and the call went in off Harding with 95e minutes on the clock.
I screamed so loud that the rest of the people in the gym must have thought I was having a ‘funny turn’.
Man of the match: The whole team.
What a crazy game at St Andrew’s. In the away end it was about 90 per cent torture and 10 per cent ecstasy as United played out one of the most bonkers games of the decade just as it comes to an end.
I can only imagine this was a fantastic game for the neutral but not good for the heart if you had something riding on the result.
The resilience to get the three points deserves all the credit in the world but so many players made mistakes or were off the pace on the day, especially towards the end of the first half when Birminham were in the ascendancy.
It’s hard to explain how a team that was keeping clean sheets and struggling for goals just a few weeks ago is now winning 5-4 away from home. A psychological boost no doubt but we need to get more discipline back in our game ahead of the trip to West Brom.
Luke Ayling was far, far from flawless but his energy, willingness to get involved, passion and superb goal grab him my man-of-the-match nod.
We march on.
Man of the match: Luke Ayling.
Well, anyone needing a winter warmer got it with that one!
The school report would read: “Full marks for spirit and belief although maybe could try harder with some of our defending!”
The crucial thing, at this time though, is to get the three points and that’s what we did … just!
At this time of year there is often a match like this with loads of goals and neither team able to close the game out.
This was ours and it was vital.
I thought all the top eight sides in the table had relatively ‘easy’ games in this round, none of them playing each other, but, as it panned out, I was shown, yet again, that there are no ‘easy’ games in the Championship and four of them lost to teams below them in the table.
That we managed to come through our game unscathed means we end the year exactly as we started it: top of the table with 51 points from 25 games but this time a full nine points clear of the side in third.
Now, how about coming away from the Hawthorns on New Year’s Day still top?
Man of the match: Jack Harrison.