It has been a long, long time since August 13th, 2016.
The day of the Leeds United home opener for the 2016/17 season saw Birmingham City come into Elland Road and walk out with a 2-1 victory over our then winless Whites. Garry Monk led the troops into Loftus Road the previous weekend and left with a 3-0 defeat, so a loss to the Blues at Elland Road hurt even worse, and many were panicking just two weeks into the campaign.
Now... well, things have surely changed.
Leeds United sit 4th in the Championship table, 10 points off automatic promotion and 8 points clear of 7th place. They’re a play off team at the moment, playing with a foundation of strong defence, a goal-happy forward, and a multi-option midfield attack.
Birmingham, well, they’re not the team that beat us 2-1 back in August either. They sit 14th in the table with 43 points, a -13 goal differential, and more losses than wins. They had a busier January window than Leeds United did, seeing 4 players leave St. Andrew’s and another 4 come in.
Jonathan Spector, a name familiar to our American fans, left the Blues in January as did Alexander Jones, Reece Brown, and Paul Caddis. But, Birmingham made loanee Lukas Jutkiewicz’s deal permanent, and as their leading scorer, that was enough to please the Bluenose faithful. Their other additions were Kerim Frei from Besiktas, Cheick Keita from Virtus Entella, and Middlesbrough’s Emilio Nsue.
But the surprise midseason sacking of Gary Rowett is their biggest change, and surely must be part of why theirs is a lost season at St. Andrew’s. Gianfranco Zola will take time to mold the Blues into his own image, but their record since his takeover has not been pretty: 2 wins, 4 draws, and 9 losses.
Our Anthony Linley put together our full preview of this match, so read that before gametime tonight. We’ve also looked quite a bit at our midfield this week, as James Mahoney asked about a formation change and Jack Dudley analyzed our quality on the wings. Both good articles, read up.
I see three points from this one, and a good start to a vital month in Leeds United’s championship run. MOT.
Birmingham City vs. Leeds United
EFL Championship fixture
St. Andrews, Birmingham
Sky Sports 1, beIN Sports, LUTV, BBC Radio Leeds, International Listings
Friday, March 3rd, 2017
11:45am PT / 2:45pm ET / 7:45pm BT
Leeds United’s starting XI
Green, Ayling, Bartley, Jansson, Berardi, Bridcutt, O’Kane, Doukara, Hernandez, Dallas, Wood
Subs: Silvestri, Cooper, Phillips, Barrow, Pedraza, Sacko, Roofe
Birmingham City’s starting XI
Kuszczak, Nsue, Dacres-Cogley, Shotton, Robinson, Keita, Kieftenbeld, Tesche, Davis, Gardner, Adams
Subs: Legzdins, Grounds, Gleeson, Jutkiewicz, Frei, Bielik, Sinclair
Johnny Wakefield: 3-1 Leeds. Power through on the road, get us set off on the right foot in March against a poor Birmingham side. Goals for Wood (of course), Roofe, and Phillips. Yeah. Let’s do it.
Anthony Linley: 2-0 Leeds. I’m going all out for a Leeds win... just as the team should be. Confidence is high, momentum is rolling and we can almost smell the play offs.
James Mahoney: 1-0 Leeds. I expect the same outcome we've all come to expect this season. A solid and dominant 1-0 victory with Woody deciding the game early in the 2nd half.
Ben Mallis: 1-0 Leeds. This is a sneaky big game for United. With a trip to Fulham on the docket for Tuesday, the result at St. Andrew’s will either catapult pressure on a young squad or reinforce a spot in the top six. I think (and strongly hope) it will be the latter. Birmingham have been flat out average this season and a promotion calibre team wins this game on the road. Plain and simple. Leeds have looked the part all season and will collect three points to start the most important month at Elland Road in years.
Mike Stehlik: 2-0 Leeds. March is an important month for Leeds, and it starts with a subpar Birmingham side. With Fulham coming up next and being a better side, it's important not to overlook the Blues. However, I don't think Leeds will and they'll continue riding this wave of good games and come out on top. Wood bangs one in, and one of the wingers we got in January seals the door shut for the three points.
Anatoliy Ivantchouk: 3-1 Leeds. The Whites need to begin experimenting with a more attacking approach in these last 12 games. With Birmingham averaging only a goal a game, this is the perfect chance for Monk to roll the dice and tell his players to get forward in dangerous positions. The message: "Go and get yourself a goal."