TWO more goals for Chris Wood and a late strike from Alfonso Pedraza moved Leesds United 11 points clear of seventh-placed Fulham with a 3-1 triumph at Friday night’s Championship hosts Birmingham City.
After a bright start by Birmingham, Leeds hit the Blues with a sucker punch in the 14th minute when a long ball from Luke Ayling found Wood who superbly lobbed Tomasz Kuszczak from just inside the penalty box.
Birmingham’s Robert Tesche was then denied a stunning equaliser when his volley hit the crossbar but Birmingham finally equalised four minutes after the hour through an equally impressive strike by Craig Gardner.
But Leeds instantly hit back and regained the lead just three minutes later when substitute Kalvin Phillips laid on a perfect pass for Wood to slam home his second of the game.
And Leeds finally ended Birmingham’s resistance in the 81st minute when Pablo Hernandez laid on an inviting pass for substitute Pedraza to slam home his first goal for the club since arriving on loan from Villarreal.
Leeds had the game’s first attempt on goal after just 45 seconds when the recalled Stuart Dallas let fly form range but Kuszczak showed safe hands to gather the winger’s attempt from 30 yards.
But Birmingham then began to exercise a degree of control and after David Davis had hit the side netting from a tight angle, Pontus Jansson was forced to head an excellent cross from Emilio Nurse narrowly over his own crossbar.
United then survived claims for a Blues penalty in the 11th minute when Davis went sprawling after a challenge by Luke Ayling, and just two minutes later Rob Green produced a fine save to tip a low shot from Che Adams away for a corner.
But from that very corner Leeds countered through a long ball from Ayling which completely baffled the Birmingham defence and allowed Wood to latch on the loose ball and produce a brilliant lob over Kuszczak from just inside the box.
Birmingham were naturally stunned but the home side produced a strong response and Davis should have done better when lashing a low shot wide in the 21st minute.
After Jansson produced a crucial header to keep out Davis two minutes later, Leeds then desperately scrambled away a Blues corner that looked destined to lead to the game’s leveller.
Leeds hit back by going close through Souleymane Doukara who drove a left-footed effort just wide but at the other end a free-kick from Craig Gardner sailed narrowly over Green’s crossbar just before the half hour mark.
Gardner then blazed another wayward effort wide before another crucial header by Jansson ended another Blues attack in the 37th minute.
But United should have then doubled their lead just just two minutes later when Dallas latched on to a loose ball in the Birmingham penalty box but powered a rising effort just over the bar.
A confident Wood then lashed an ambitious effort just over but Leeds then survived by the skin of their teeth moments later when a 43rd-minute corner was cleared out to Birmingham’s Robert Tesche whose stunning volley from 25 yards thumped the crossbar.
Leeds then briefly began the second half with purpose but Wood saw a low shot blocked before Gardner fired well wide for City.
But the pattern of Birmingham dominance soon continued and after Kyle Bartley hacked an Adams header off the line, Tesche fired just over from six yards out.
Green then saved the day with another fine stop to keep out Adams.
Whites head coach Garry Monk then took off Eunan O’Kane for Kalvin Phillips just short of the hour mark.
But Birmingham continued to bomb forward and finally bagged the goal they richly deserved in the 63rd minute when Gardner’s low shot from long range beat Green and nestled into the bottom left corner.
But amazingly United regained the lead just four minutes later when Doukara played in Phillips who squared a perfect pass for Wood who needed no second invitation to slam the ball home into an empty net.
For the second time in the game, Birmingham were left stunned and this time the response was not as impressive.
Leeds should have gone 3-1 up in the 79th minute when a fairly quiet Pablo Hernandez saw his low shot saved.
But Heranandez quickly atoned just two minutes later when laying on an inviting pass for advancing substitute Perdraza who produced a fine low finish to finally put Birmingham to bed in the 81st minute.
The Blues were left flattened and had just one more chance through Adams who fired wide but Wood almost had the final say when seeing a low shot saved by Kuszczak in pursuit of his hat-trick.
Leeds United: Green, Ayling, Bartley, Jansson, Berardi, Bridcutt, O’Kane (Phillips 58), Dallas (Pedraza 72), Hernandez (Roofe 82), Doukara, Wood. Subs not used: Silvestri, Cooper, Barrow, Sacko.
Birmingham City: Kuszczak, Nsue, Dacres-Cogley, Shotton, Robinson, Keita (Frei 83), Kieftenbeld (Jutkiewicz 62), Tesche, Davis, Gardner, Adams. Subs not used: Legzdins, Grounds, Gleeson, Bielik, Sinclair.
Referee: Christopher Kavanagh.
Attendance: 20,321 (3,281 Leeds).