Neil Redfearn largely stuck to the team that performed so well in the draw against in-form Bolton Wanderers making one enforced change in Scott Wootton for the injured Gaetano Berardi and brining in Mirco Antenucci for Casper Sloth. Instantly the Facebook Legions and Twitter Mafiosi decried his tactics and started clanging the bells of doom. The absence of Brazilian wünderkind Adryan had some chomping at the bit and wondering where the creative spark was going to come from. In my last match report for the Bolton game, I said,
"That's what next week's game is, where our chastised first XI regulars return and play like Messi and Co and rip Birmingham to shreds. Maybe."
OK, so maybe at times it was more messy than Messi and more Lionel Blair than Lionel Messi but today's performance was a step up from the Bolton game and, in places and at times, we actually bossed Birmingham who came into this game on a rich vein of success.
The above figures show that, over the period of 90 minutes, Leeds were more productive than Birmingham having around 28% more touches of the ball and putting together around 39% more passes than their opponents.
The hit-n’-miss affair that is Marco Silvestri’s distribution accuracy continued with him gaining a 67% distribution accuracy this week from 2 successful goal kicks, 1 successful kick from hand, 2 successful throws and 17 kicked/passed clearances. Again, Silvestri showed composure under pressure completing 5 catches (100% success) and clearing his lines with 2 punches. The 5 saves that he made in this week’s game (vs a per 90 return of 2.69) and the 5 saves per goal (vs a per 90 return of 1.94) help to highlight the important role that he plays in helping keep Leeds United in games. The 5 saves also helped him maintain his #3 ranking as Championship’s best goalkeeper in terms of saves made. Marco Silvestri’s shot-stopping from open play shots improved slightly on the back of these 5 saves with him now having saved 79.8% of shots from open play (25 goals conceded from 124 opponent shots on target).
It was a testament to a solid team performance that Leeds United’s back four only had to make 13 defensive clearances during the whole of the game. Against an in-form Birmingham and facing jet-heeled Demarai Gray, Scott Wootton had a tidy game at right back after returning to the side following his loan move to Rotherham, whilst not being spectacularly productive in his defensive duties, Wootton did attempt a team-high 71 passes, completing 51 of these (72.60% accuracy) with 2 accurate ‘key passes’ leading to teammate shots. In this total of 51 accurate passes, Scott Wootton was also accurate with 3 long ball passes and 1 crossed ball. Other notable returns came from the number of interceptions made; Giuseppe Bellusci made 6 intercepts of opponent passes (vs 2.81 interceptions per 90) and Charlie Taylor made 4 intercepts of opponent passes (vs 3.75 interceptions per 90). When looking back over previous calamitous performances, it’s hard to tell that this is a Leeds United defensive unit.
Leeds dominated the passing in this game, having around 39% more passing attempts than their opponents. Luke Murphy had another great game as evidenced by his 53 passing attempts, 67% of these (39/53) played forward of the position where he received the ball. He also created 5 chances/shooting opportunities for teammates (vs a season per 90 of 1.68 chances created). His passing was clinically accurate in the first half at 97% accuracy, misplacing only 2 of his 30 attempted passes in 46 minutes of play. It was a demonstration of the superiority that Leeds enjoyed in phases of this game that Lewis Cook also managed to outstrip his per 90 return for created chances (1.26 per 90) by teeing up teammates for 3 shooting opportunities. As a unit, the 4 players here attempted to present Leeds United with an attacking platform with 65% of their passes having a target zone of Birmingham’s defensive third of the field. Luke Murphy typified this tendency with 72% of his passing attempts having a target zone of Birmingham’s defensive third of the field.
As with last Saturday’s game against Bolton, the Leeds midfield didn’t shy away from tackling the opposition with the above four players having 8 tackle attempts and being successful in 5 of these. The successful tacklers were: Rodolph Austin with 2 from 2 (100%), Luke Murphy 2 from 4 (50%) and Lewis Cook 1 from 1 (100%). The willingness to chase and tackle, coupled with the provision of shooting opportunities for teammates is a welcome turnaround in fortunes for a team once starved of 'chances' and living off of scraps.
Steve Morison had another solid game leading the line for Leeds. He again held the ball up well aerial prowess did, at times, unsettle Birmingham’s defenders; this was especially true when he was providing ‘knock-downs’ for fellow Leeds players. Steve Morison was unlucky today not to mark his first goal of the season with a deft flicked header beating Darren Randolph all ends up only to rebound back into the keeper’s grateful clutches. Finding himself in these positions with increasing regularity, one can only hope that he begins to find the target soon. The other two ‘strikers’ brought on today, Souleymane Doukara and Billy Sharp, battled and supported well but didn’t contribute much numbers-wise although Billy Sharp did unleash one shot which was wide of the target.
This game was definitely one point won rather than 2 points dropped. It was a battling performance and it was encouraging to see a Leeds team not buckling and sagging but actually going at the opposition and, to be truthful and despite the equality of shots, really bossing them. Leeds' defensive and midfield units have benefited immeasurably since the change in formation for the Sunderland F.A. Cup game and this has been demonstrated in the way they have either matched or beaten their opponents (Bolton and Birmingham) in the shot totals which was an aspect of the Leeds United game that has truthfully been pretty dire all season. It would be nice to see a couple of players getting a chance in the new system to see if they can add to it; in this respect I mean Brian Montenegro and Adryan. However, at this moment, I am just happy that Leeds aren't being bullied out of games like used to happen.
Unless stated, in-text statistics are derived from data on WhoScored?