We wondered coming into this Tuesday night match at St. Andrew's Stadium in Birmingham if either side had anything left for which to play. Leeds United, stuck in 15th place and basically assured of a spot in the Championship next season, had won zero of their last four games and looked disinterested several times over the last few weeks.
Birmingham City, while in 9th place and not mathematically eliminated, were a long shot to make the playoff, sitting nine points behind 6th place Sheffield Wednesday. It looked like it'd likely be more of the same, the players playing out the rest of the tune, and as our Birmingham blogger friend said, planning their European summer holiday.
Instead, we got a dominant performance from a well-selected, well-motivated Leeds United team in the first half, and a cagey fight in the second, complete with three goals and a last-second red card.
Didn't see that coming.
Leeds United won the game Tuesday night 2 goals to 1 off a brace from North Ireland international Stuart Dallas. The goals were as pretty as you like too. The first, in the 17th minute...
And the second, one of the best goals of the season, in the 50th...
Both were absolutely beautiful: the first, a perfectly placed wormburner from 20 yards out, and the second, an unstoppable, indefensible volley from just as far. Where on earth did those come from?
We'll talk about the rest of the game in a bit, but first, let's talk about Stuart Dallas. Dallas signed with Leeds in August of 2015 for an undisclosed sum rumored to be anywhere from £750,000 to £1.3 million. He scored his first goal against Wolves in December, and his second in that March loss to Huddersfield Town of which we will say no more.
His third and fourth goals, while they could've come a bit earlier in the season, are sure to impress and might actually quiet some critics around Leeds, as they were a much-needed respite for the despondent, depressed fanbase. Much like Lewis Cook's wondergoal back in February against Fulham, Stuart Dallas' brace against Birmingham both sticks out as a bright spot of the season and reminds Leeds of what we're always hoping for: the future.
Cook and Dallas (and Mowatt, and Taylor, and Byram, no... wait) are capable of flashes of brilliance, brilliance that might take Leeds United up... if only they can find consistency and stick around long enough to grow into that Championship-winning form. Having now avoided relegation, that's what we're spending the rest of the season looking for: players that can stick around, grow together, and find that form, together.
Dallas took his turn for the team Tuesday night, and helped his case to be a part of that future, giving fans a break from losing and restoring some of our hope. That, in itself, was worth tuning in for.
The game continued, as Birmingham answered Dallas' second goal on a well-worked free kick: Clayton Donaldson deposited the rebound from Marco Silvestri's save in the 53rd minute. Another Birmingham goal was disallowed (rightly) for offside with 20 minutes to go in the second half, giving some of us heart attacks. Manager Gary Rowatt didn't appreciate it either.
Gary Rowett says that Donaldson's "offside goal" was at least a yard onside. "I won't be the only one complaining about the officials" #lufc— Mark Wilson (@MarkWilsonRadio) April 12, 2016
And from then on, it was a tense back and forth struggle. The game ended with Leeds the victor 2-1 at Birmingham, but not before Alex Mowatt picked up a red card on a dangerous tackle in injury time. It was a sloppy tackle, surely deserving of a booking, but a red seemed harsh, and Steve Evans said he'd appeal it with the league after the game. He'll miss the next three games if the card stands. One of our Twitter followers made the great point...
@ThruItAllLIVE There had to be something. A win without any scandal would be too much to wish for.— Richard Groves (@englishinvader) April 12, 2016
All in all though, Mowatt's card aside, it was a great night for Leeds United at Birmingham. They bossed play throughout the first half against a side ahead of them in the table, on the road, and they came away with the victory thanks to two beautiful goals from their young Northern Irishman. Dallas restored some hope for the future, gave us a break from losing ways, and made it fun to watch Leeds again. Thanks Stuart. Now, let's do it again Saturday.