From minute 13 to minute 89, Leeds were staring down the barrel of a completely disastrous start to the season on Wednesday night. Fresh off the back of a comprehensive defeat at the hands of QPR last Sunday in the season opener, Leeds needed to rebound, and fast. Marcus Antonsson's late, well-executed strike on the turn spared the Whites' blushes, but the goal provided only the thinnest layers of gloss on what was another under-par performance on the north-west coast.
It was a game that Garry Monk and his charges would have seen as an ideal way to restore belief among the squad and fans alike, but yet another individual defensive error made for an uphill battle early on. Missed chances and defensive lapses made for a traditionally end-to-end cup tie that Leeds no doubt could, and should have taken the sting out of and controlled from the first whistle. Heroics from Rob Green in the penalty shoot-out were just about enough to squeeze the club into the second round, but having the "courage" and "character," in the words of the manager, to get through the game may not be enough when we return to the rigors of this fine league.
"Season starts now"
All too often is a poor game at the start of the season written off and placed in the "trial and error" category. A lot of comments from the players and other media outlets since the humbling at Loftus Road suggest exactly that.
It's wrong, the season doesn't start now, it started last weekend, only Leeds forgot to put the date in the diary and didn't turn up. Writing the game off at the final whistle and suggesting "we will go again" is no excuse. For Leeds however, it really does have to start now - a lack of result and performance tomorrow will put Garry Monk and the players under an awful lot of pressure; wholly unhealthy this early on.
Yes, you're quite right Garry, we do. In not too many seasons gone by, knowing our next match was at home used to give a massive lift to everyone involved with the club, and if we're serious about heading up the league, Elland Road does need to return to being said fortress.
What have we learned from the first two games?
Not much we didn't already know: we can't defend. For the second game in a row Leeds conceded early - from a corner. It's a manager’s nightmare to see his team let goals in from simple corners and crosses, especially when the ball is allowed to bounce and roll around in the penalty area... just put your foot through it. Seeing Leeds concede scrambled goals by allowing the ball to ping around the box is infuriating. The issue is because there is no leadership at the back, not one of them seems as though they want to take control.
Sol Bamba is the captain and should naturally be taking the back-four by the scruff of the neck, but just simply isn't doing his job. Much of the consensus around the fans is that he isn't good enough for the team. If you'd remember a few weeks back, one of our Roundtable topics found us not really knowing who should captain the side, and the lack of standout options is showing.
There are however some bright sparks and positives to build upon: Marcus Antonsson has made his first two appearances for the club from the bench, and has looked threatening; his goal at Fleetwood will feed him even more confidence. Perhaps the most exciting prospect for Leeds is the arrival of Pablo Hernandez, with the versatile number 10 pulling a lot of strings on Wednesday night, and seeming to be of a much higher quality than the players around him. He'll no doubt be a regular in the XI week in, week out. Kemar Roofe has shown flashes of his undoubted ability, and he, along with other new arrival Hadi Sacko, will take a couple of games to adapt to the division.
What changes for Saturday?
Garry Monk has already confirmed he has every intention of using new signing Luke Ayling in the starting line-up tomorrow, which will likely be to replace the yet-again injured Gaetano Berardi at right back. Kyle Bartley seems to be the favourite centre-back at the moment, and with Monk still not full convinced on the fitness of Liam Cooper, Sol Bamba may start - although his days appear to be numbered.
Leeds looked much more threatening when Antonsson joined Wood up front after coming on against Fleetwood, and the fan base would love to see Monk try a 4-4-2 from the off. Whether it will happen remains to be seen, as it may not be obvious where Hernandez would fit into that system should he choose it. Alex Mowatt looked hungry when he came on midweek, but as we know he is wasted out wide. A central midfield of Mowatt and Vieira could work with Hernandez and Roofe flanking the front two.
Leeds will need to build on what confidence they have taken from seeing the game at Fleetwood through to victory, as there is nothing positive to come from last weekend.
Birmingham have also had an unconvincing start, drawing 0-0 at home to Cardiff City last season, and making a shock exit from the EFL Cup at home to League One Oxford United after extra time. Nothing between them, then.
At the back end of last season Leeds took three points away from St. Andrew's, a Stuart Dallas brace making the score 1-2. However at Elland Road, Birmingham won 0-2.
Leeds last six matches vs. Birmingham: W3 D2 L1
Leeds United Player to Watch
Pablo Hernandez will be looking to build on his impressive start at Fleetwood, and a raucous crowd at Elland Road tomorrow will hopefully fire him up even more for his home debut. Hernandez has played at a higher level than the Championship before, and it's hoped he'll hit the ground running and give the Birmingham defence lots to think about.
Birmingham City Player to Watch
Birmingham like to play on the counter-attack away from home, and the likes of Clayton Donaldson will be utilised for his pace. He may be licking his lips at getting the chance to run at Sol Bamba - the Leeds back-four will need to keep him in their pockets.
Leeds United vs. Birmingham City
Football League Championship
Elland Road, Leeds
LUTV, BBC Radio Leeds
Saturday, August 13, 2016
7:00am PT / 10:00am ET / 3:00pm BT
Leeds United’s possible lineup
Green, Ayling, Bartley, Cooper, Taylor, Hernandez, Mowatt, Vieira, Roofe, Wood, Antonsson
Birmingham City’s possible lineup
Kuszczak, Spector, Morrison, Shotton, Grounds, Gleeson, Davis, Cotterill, Fabbrini, Maghoma, Donaldson
At the moment, I can't see Leeds keeping a clean sheet. Hopefully the arrival of Ayling will help bring a calming influence to the defence. It may take some time for the defence to gel and Monk needs to start picking a consistent back-four, and I see us conceding again tomorrow. At the other end though, the likes of Hernandez and Roofe will be keen to get going quickly in their first competitive home game, and I think the chances we have been creating will start to be put away.
I think Leeds will get their season back on track tomorrow, although it won't be comfortable. 2-1 Leeds. #MOT