Birmingham City player ratings vs Leeds United: Two score 9/10 and two earn 8s in surprise victory - gallery
Player ratings and match report from Birmingham City’s 1-0 Championship win over Leeds United at St Andrew’s Stadium.
Birmingham City stunned Championship play-off hopefuls Leeds United with a hard-fought 1-0 victory at St Andrew’s on Saturday afternoon. It wasn’t pretty for much of the encounter as neither side was able to create many opportunities but a late flurry of activity was decisive as Blues went on to crush the hearts of the Whites, courtesy of a Lukas Jutkiewicz penalty in added time. Donning the new home shirt in the league for the first time, Birmingham rather fittingly maintained their ‘undefeated’ start to the season with a vital three points in front of new owner Tom Wagner and NFL icon Tom Brady.
Ahead of kick-off on a day that marked the start of a new era at St Andrew’s, Bluenoses, packed out in their thousands, paid their respects to the club’s greatest-ever player, Trevor Francis. The welcome to the field was extraordinary, with blue flares, fireworks and fire roaring on John Eustace’s side. What followed was a beautifully-spoken tribute from Jasper Carrott, a famous Blues fan and a close friend of Francis. The sense of togetherness in the stadium’s walls was palpable.
When the action got underway a few minutes beyond 3pm, Birmingham looked inspired. Leeds had most of the ball but Blues, in a 4-2-3-1 shape, pressed high and created the odd half-chance with some bursting runs forward. Credit to how well Birmingham defended, it took until the 40th minute for any opportunities of note to be worked by either side. The crowd were lifted off their feet when it eventually did come, though, it must be said.
Juninho Bacuna received the ball near the centre circle and flicked it off his heel and over his shoulder to a sprinting Laird. The former Manchester United right-back took the ball into his stride and won a corner off a low cross. Kevin Long went closest to taking the lead from the resultant set-piece as the Irishman met Bacuna’s outswinger. Much to his and the crowd’s dismay, however, it went high and wide.
Both Birmingham and Leeds came out after the interval looking very similar to the way they ended the first half. Scrappy in and out of possession, it was a matter of finding the odd pocket of space on the flanks to build moments of any true threat. Approaching the hour mark, winger Daniel James created the Whites’ first big opportunity as he sprinted down the left and crossed hard and low to the near post. John Ruddy dived in to try and claim the ball but it was fumbled. Leeds would’ve broken the deadlock if it wasn’t for Long as the centre-half bravely slid in last-ditch to deny Joe Gelhardt.
Just to add to the irony after an uneventful first 80 minutes, the chances all seemed to come at once. The first came to Long again as he was completely unmarked and simply had to score with a header from a corner, but it was put inches wide of the left post. Supporters gasped almost as to start celebrating; it was that clear of an opportunity. Just a few minutes later, Siriki Dembele picked up the ball and drove through the middle before playing in Bacuna, who had the first shot on target of the game. The midfielder looked up and struck hard and low but Illan Meslier was there to get across and jump on the ball.
Just as you thought it was set to end all square at St Andrew’s, Blues were given a glorious opportunity. Dembele, near the halfway line, pinged the ball diagonally over to Ethan Laird and the right-back burst into the area. Beating James for pace, which is easier said than done, Laird was clattered over and referee Tim Robinson pointed to the spot. Jutkiewicz, who had only just come on as a late substitute, stepped up and fired the ball down the middle. Meslier got a leg to it but it wasn’t enough as Jutkiewicz’s deflected shot nestled into the back of the net, sending the crowd into raptures. It was a nervy last few minutes but Birmingham held on to a huge three points. Here are our Blues player ratings.
Attendance: 20,451. Away: 2,213.