If only 11,447 could be bothered turning up on a Saturday afternoon then I shudder to think what the crowd will be like at St Andrews a week on Tuesday when Leeds United travel to Birmingham to settle their FA Cup 3rd round tie.
Luciano Becchio’s goal on the hour cancelled out a superb strike from Wade Elliott to earn Leeds a draw, and the dubious reward of a replay, one which I am pretty sure was the least desired result from either club at the start of play.
Despite rumours of both sides fielding vastly weakened teams, Lee Clark and Neil Warnock gave the FA Cup the respect it deserves by naming strong line-ups for the clash at Elland Road. The visitors did rest their England international keeper Jack Butland, but had their first choice defence and a pacy attacking pair in Ravel Morrison and Nathan Redmond.
Neil Warnock, from his sickbed in Cornwall, made changes from the side which beat Bolton on New Year’s Day. Jamie Ashdown resumed his cup keeper role, Sam Byram and Lee Peltier were rested with Tom Lees slotting in at right back and Adam Drury given a chance to shine at left back. Aidy White and Ryan Hall were introduced to the wide areas, hopefully to provide the ammunition for Luciano Becchio and Ross McCormack.
In a surprisingly entertaining encounter, Leeds made a slow start, a stark contrast to the quickness on display from the Blues front two of Redmond and Morrison. It was pretty clear from the outset that they would provide a very stern test for Jason Pearce and Alan Tate at the heart of the United defence.
Jamie Ashdown was forced into three useful saves in the opening fifteen minutes, getting down well to comfortably save efforts from Chris Burke, Morrison and Redmond.
Leeds though should have taken the lead on 13 minutes when McCormack delivered a delightful free kick from the right hand side. He picked out Pearce who should have done much better than head against the post from six yards out.
Leeds were already struggling to cope with the pace of the Birmingham attacks, so to find a linesman who quite clearly did not have a clue how the offside rule worked made life doubly difficult. Redmond had already raced through a good three yards offside once, and when Morrison was allowed to do the same with Redmond in support, Leeds looked doomed to fall behind. Luckily finishing was not an attribute which came naturally to the pair and Redmond wasted a glorious opportunity, skewing his effort six yards wide from about 10 yards out, a pretty decent achievement when you think about it.
With Leeds being caught out with balls behind them, the natural tactic was to drop deep and cut out the space for the Blues to run in to. Unfortunately this allowed the midfielders to start running with the ball from deep, as Wade Elliott did on 32 minutes. He strode forward unchallenged from half way before unleashing a vicious dipping and swerving effort which flew into the top corner. So silent was the crowd that you could hear the net ripple before the traveling supporters had realised what happened and celebrated wildly.
Leeds were struggling to make any attacking impact. Ryan Hall was sloppy whenever he had possession, whilst Aidy White once again looked absolutely clueless about his role in the team. He offered his full back no outlet in forward areas, constantly drifted in field and generally showed a lack of any tactical nous about how he was going to make an impact on the game. The one time he did cause danger by running with the ball to utilise his pace, was unfortunately against his own team as he attempted to dribble the ball clear from his own penalty area.
Unsurprisingly both Hall and White were removed at half time, replaced by Sam Byram and El-Hadji Diouf. What was surprising was that it transpired Neil Warnock had made the changes from his bed, by phone, after listening to the Yorkshire Radio commentary.
Leeds instantly looked a little better and should have levelled matters when Becchio was allowed to continue by the hapless linesman despite being a good two yards offside. Unfortunately the Argentinian was as profligate as his Birmingham counterparts and weakly shot straight at Colin Doyle in the City goal.
Leeds had no option but to push forward, a tactic which left them worryingly exposed at the back. Alan Tate in particular was having a torrid afternoon, as Redmond and Morrison dragged him all over the place to create the space for one and other to rampage forward. Throw in the skills of Chris Burke on the right and Leeds can only be grateful of some woeful finishing that allowed them to keep a foothold in the tie.
That foothold became more secure on the hour when Becchio grabbed the equaliser. His initial knockdown into the path of David Norris was a little short of its target, but when Davies miscontrolled the ball, Norris nipped in to feed Becchio, the striker coolly slotting past the onrushing keeper into the bottom corner.
There was a lengthy delay when Birmingham full back Will Packwood went down with a bad injury, reported to be a broken leg, which saw Lee Clark came onto the pitch to console some of his players.
Following a six minute break, Birmingham upped the tempo once again, Elliott going close to adding a second with a shot across the face of the Leeds goal. Tate picked up what was an inevitable booking on 71 minutes as Morrison once again beat him for pace and skill, the United centre back having no option but to upend the flying striker.
It was all City at this stage and Callum Reilly and Morrison fired efforts wide as Birmingham looked to grab the winner their play deserved. With both sides desperate for a positive result Leeds made an attacking change to save Tate any further embarrassment. Ass. Man. Mick Jones introduced Davide Somma in place of the centre back, with Byram dropping to full back and Lees shifting across into the middle.
The South African made little impression and it was Birmingham who should have won the match when Burke fired across the goal, the ball just evading the far post. The closing moments saw the crowd frustrated by some strange officiating by referee Chris Foy. After having allowed play to flow for the opening 85 minutes of the match, he suddenly decided that any physical contact constituted a foul. One can only assume he was desperate for the match to go to a replay, and after Michael Brown had fired a half chance into the upper reaches of the Kop with United’s last attack, got his wish when he brought proceedings to a close.