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Turned up at New Street Station for a midday kickoff - and what do we see? The largest police presence I've witnessed at any Leeds game bar the Galatasaray home game - and like nothing we've seen in the league over here for quite a few years. I guess Brum and the WMP still have a few memories of their visitors from Cardiff and Millwall in recent years - and indeed the infamous relegation days when a young lad was crushed to death under a wall that collapsed due to the pressure of several hundred Leeds fans contained inside St Andrews. Still, the police were friendly rather than confrontational and made sure we all had a smooth - if slow - passage to the ground.
Tickets for this game were apparently in short supply for Leeds fans - but there must have been a few spare because Birmingham had a cash turnstile in operation. One slight problem there: you had to have a match ticket to get through the police cordon to get to the turnstiles in the first place. Someone should send Karren Brady and the WMP a copy of Catch 22. Searched three times on the way in - which would be overkill for the Earth Summit, never mind a lunchtime league match. A vaguely drinkable pint was available in the ground to everyone's surprise, and the "No beer to be served in the 15 minutes before kick-off" rule was totally ignored. There was a huge chunk of unoccupied seating in the Leeds end - it later turned out that a massive jam on the motorways had held up several coaches and even the Radio Aire match commentator. Let the train take the strain folks!
The game in a nutshell: they wanted it more than we did. End of story.
To expand slightly, Birmingham put us under pressure from the off, chasing every loose ball and closing down the midfield at every opportunity. By "midfield" I generally mean "Lee Bowyer": Nick Barmby barely touched the ball, Eirik Bakke gave it to them every time he had it and Harry Kewell's belief that he is a striker apparently absolves him of defensive duties. Over the course of the game Alan Smith did more to stop the home side from scoring than the rest of the midfield put together - shame he's a striker.
The first goal came just as the initial surge was abating. Danny Mills and Eirik Bakke were left watching blankly as Martin Grainger produced a speedy overlap and excellent cross that Ian Harte did well to head behind. A quickly taken corner wasn't closed down at the corner or on the edge of the box and a cracking shot from Paul Devlin beat Robbo from nearly 25 yards and didn't give the keeper a chance.
Vidooks had the ball in the net in the first half - but ref Durkin ruled it out for some reason or other. Durkin had one of those performances that left most casual observers perplexed. He let Cissé get away with backing into Vidooks on numerous occasions - awarding a home free kick when the Aussie striker stepped to one side to allow the defender to fall over. He rightly booked one Birmingham player for timewasting (and this with 20 minutes to go - not the usual wait-until-we're-in-injury-time option which many refs take). Then he somewhat harshly booked another home player for delaying a free kick and marched the kick back 10 yards. But he then allowed the subsequent kick to be charged down from about 5 yards away without penalising everyone, and despite 5 substitutions, the timewasting mentioned earlier and 2 further injury stoppages, only allowed for 3 minutes of stoppage time at the end of the game. Not that the extra time would have made much difference.
The teams came out for the second half with no changes (we'd been begging for Olly to come on for Bakke or Barmby to reinforce the midfield). Still, things seemed to be on the up when Bowyer played a one-two inside the box and placed the ball perfectly to equalise just into the second half. 10 minutes later we went to sleep again - a poor ball out of defence by Eirik Bakke was picked up and returned with interest by Damien Johnson - again producing a long-range shot that left Robbo without a hope.
We managed to hit the woodwork twice - and the introduction of Olivier Dacourt certainly made the midfield look a bit more sensible but with no real attacking options on the bench ("Bring on Keano - oh hold on - we've sold him") there was never the edge up front to spark Leeds into life. And with the midfield outnumbered and outfought throughout the game it would have been an injustice for us to take any more points than we did out of this game.
When the final whistle went, most of the Leeds players slumped off sadly - but at least Smith, Bowyer and Woodgate moved to acknowledge the support they'd received from the fans - and quite right too: they'd been the pick of the bunch on the field and had done very little wrong other than fail to score more themselves. Panto villain Robbie Savage got the recriminations underway early - standing in front of the Leeds fans and "making a gesture" as they say: inciteful and spiteful, Savage was trying to provoke a reaction from the fans and failed. Wonder if the FA will stir itself to take a look?
We've now dropped 6 points in just 4 games - and that against teams you would expect to beat. This is midtable form - not Champions League qualification form - and our next two league games don't exactly make the heart soar with optimism. If our midfield plays as loose a game as they have done in the last 4 matches, then you will be able to more or less kiss our league season goodbye by the end of September.
Had a day to calm down and reflect. Just went out and got pissed last night and tried not to talk about footy. Its enough to drive you fcking mad whats going on at the moment.
SO we got beat and fairly beat. I was quite impressed by Brum. They battled hard and outfought us for major parts of the game and without doubt controlled the midfield. Their forwards held the ball up well and they had good width. Having said that apart from pick the ball out of the net Robinson didnt have a lot to do. We started with the same formation that struggled for 60 minutes against Sunderland ! So not surprising really that we struggled. We did get more chances as Brum pushed up with Kewell hitting the bar and Viduka hitting the post with a one on one chance that he should have buried. Theres loads of problems with the 4-3-3. Firstly Alan Smith who was my man of the match by a mile is playing on the right wing most of the time. He needs to play up front. The main problem is the midfield what midfield !? I think everyone knows about Bakke now except Venables. The abuse he was getting from the Leeds fans was pretty bad but you can understand the frustration. Yesterday he had yet another stinker (thats 4 in 4). This was probably his best game though. He battled hard and put in a lot of good tackles but the fact remains that he looks very uncomfortable on the ball and his passing his patchy to say the least. In this formation he actually gets more of the ball than anyone so its seems strange to put so much pressure on a guy that for one is not up to the job and secondly is very low on confidence now. Bakkes lazy pass for their second goal summed up his season so far. I DO know why he doesnt pick Dacourt now though. Dacourt came on and did more his first 10 minutes than Bakke has in his Leeds career but then he did look tired and he did start to lose his man on ocsassions. Obviously Venables feels he is not fit enough but the question is WHY ? Cos he hasnt played a full first team game for months. I think Im beginning to see why Liverpool let Barmby go. Decent debut but in the last 3 games hes hardly touched the bleeding ball. He looks like a small, fat lad huffing and puffing is way round the park. You could easily forget he is playing. I thought Bowyer put in a load of effort but at times he was easily muscled out of things by the stronger Brum midfielders. We need to sort out the midfield and I think we need to know what the hell as happened to David Batty. Hes exactly what we are looking for at the moment.
Second half Venables tried to change it. He moved Smith up front with Viduka , put Kewell on the left and Barmby on the right. Kewell looked fairly lively and dangerous in the first half up front but as soon as he gets put on the left wing oh dear. Twice getting in good positions only to see him not deliver the cross. Kewell plays up front or not at all, Smith should play up front alongside him so where does that leave Viduka ? I dont think theres a place in the team for Viduka. He is a passenger. He is a luxury we cant afford. Good when hes got the ball at his feet yet completely useless when asked to do a bit of work. Even when he does get the ball at his feet he usually hasnt the pace or acceleration to really hurt defences unless they fall for his little tricks.
Dropping Viduka would be the first step in trying to sort out this teams problems. Yesterday he was terrible. Towards the end when Viduka was out on his feet and Kewell had been shipped to the left wing and Smith was battling just about on his own, what could Tel do ? We needed some pace but Tel has sold our only option to Spurs. F'cking great !
Defence Shaky. Harte actually did ok defensively but his corners were terrible. A disgrace.
Robinson is it just me or does he not have the quickness of mind of Martyn. He never goes for the quick release preferring the big punt up field. He also doesnt seem to have the presence. I thought he might have done better with the first goal having got his hand to it but that is being very harsh.
It's only 4 games but things don't look good and if anything I think we may have taken a slight step backwards from DOL. Unbelievable but true. I like what Tel's trying to do with Kewell but they're are so many other areas which need sorting.
Crowd loads of empty seats in the Leeds end. Strange!
How many police ? and how many mobile camera vans. At least we know the police are getting good pay. I was searched 3 times going in. I even overheard one of the coppers saying the searching is a bit ott today.
One thing that has not been mentioned very much is atmosphere at the match. Reminded me very much of our promotion year and first year back in premiership when clubs did not like to come to Leeds. Credit to the Brum fans behind their team and making a lot of noise. Something we seem to have lost at Elland Road nowadays. Perhaps a reason why Brum were much committed over the 90 minutes and for this reason alone deserved their points.
Richard Walker and others have mentioned quite a few seats free in the Leeds end. Not really surprising as many from Leeds were not aware that tickets were being sold on the day and even then it was chaotic with the police not actually letting you up to the turnstiles where you could pay on the day if you could not show your ticket!!!!!) Given that tickets for the home fans were on sale at 21 quid against 35 quid in our end (I thought there was a premiership rule against this), quite a few lads just bought tickets for their end or simply did not travel. Surprised not seen more from John Boocock and others of the various fans forums on this as I cant believe they can get away with this and we should be raising the roof with Premier League and others.
Escort to the ground was also reminiscent of the 80s. After taking ca 30 mins to walk about 500 metres, big Al and I slipped away and by the time big Al had gone to the chippy and eaten his two samosas and chips, the escort was still way behind. Aim seemed to be to deliver Leeds fans to ground as close as possible to kick-off. Lots of vans and helicopters also but no bother that I saw.
Big difference for me in this match and Man City versus the pre-season friendliest I saw was Bakke. He had looked very good against Barnsley and also against rangers but against both the cities he looked poor and gave the ball away too often. El Tel must really be unimpressed with Batty and Dacourt. I wonder if the next option is Seth.
Also not convinced that Robinson could not have got to one of the 2 goals.
For those who criticised or questioned Smiths performance on Saturday, I can only disagree. At half-time quite a few of us were saying how it would be better if we had ten Smiths on the pitch as he was the only lad who really looked interested and up for it. Covered an immense amount of ground. I think that only he and Woodgate really stood out on Saturday.
Kewell and Barmby a disgrace and looking disinterested for most of the time.
In all, deserved the booing of the pitch at the END of the match in my opinion.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 02/09/2002.
Birmingham City's last appearance in the old First Division was fleeting. After being relegated in 1984 and promoted in 1985 they began brightly enough with five wins and a draw in their opening nine games but then lost 26 of the next 33 and went down with a long sigh like a punctured Dunlop.
So the optimism of those supporters who greeted Saturday's initial victory in the Premiership with chants about winning it may have been a trifle premature.
For while there was no doubting the worth of Birmingham's win over Leeds United, who have genuine pretensions about finishing in the top four, St Andrews will need to see more evidence of its team's lasting ability to meet the demands of Premier League football before judgments can be made on the likelihood of their survival.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 01/09/2002.
Football fans - will anybody ever understand them? Five minutes before their club's first victory in top-flight football for 18 years against a side filled with quality internationals, some Birmingham City fans were actually leaving St Andrews. Was this amazing win - achieved with only two players with significant Premiership experience - not enough?
The rest of the stadium, bar a small pocket of hushed Leeds United fans, greeted the final whistle with the sort of hysterical uproar this place has not seen or heard in a generation, a powerful reminder that football can still be magical.
Not for Leeds, of course. They have now lost two games in a row and face a daunting trip to Newcastle United in their next fixture. Bar a short spell either side of half-time, they were poor.
Copy from Yorkshire Evening Post of 02/09/2002.
SOONER or later the full scale of Terry Venables' task at Elland Road was going to rear up and make itself known.
Indeed, the only certainty of what promises to be yet another unpredictable season in the life of Leeds United, was that the new manager would have to deal with his fair share of dramas and horrors - as those before him have already witnessed.
The opening two matches of the season may have done much to cloud those unwelcome truths, but this hurricane of a past week has devastatingly blown all the cover away to once again reveal the inadequacies which saw former boss David O'Leary sacked.
Venables knew before he was plucked from his holiday villa in Spain that this was not going to be an easy job - that was emphasised again at St Andrews on Saturday just four days after Sunderland first rocked the boat.
O'Leary had been ushered out after his side of immensely talented individuals failed to make an annual date with the Champions League. He left behind a group of players - many of whom who were unhappy and wanted to quit West Yorkshire - who had promised so much but delivered very little.
Their performances at the tail end of the last campaign lacked both heart and quality while in many cases the passion which had always been nailed to the performances of Leeds United was sadly missing.
All that O'Leary had built was in danger of falling apart. Enter new man Venables, the man chairman Peter Ridsdale feels can take on that groundwork and finally build a side which is capable of competing on a par with the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United.
The past week has proved, if nothing else, that those days are still just as far away as when the Irishman was ushered into an Elland Road office on June 27th and told he was no longer wanted.
As honeymoons go it was certainly a short one. Two wins against newly- promoted sides giving everyone at the club a much-needed lift. It has to now be hoped that their return to reality is not followed by a trip to the marriage guidance counsellor.
It is important to remember that while nobody was getting too excited as we sat on the top of the table after two games there is no reason to feel too down- hearted after just four.
Venables knows what is required as he looks to repair the brittle confidence of his players before what could be a make or break month for the entire season.
It had been hoped that his side would enter a quartet of games against the likes of Newcastle, Blackburn, Manchester United and Arsenal with the full 12 points from four very winable games. That was not to be and it's a case of back to the training ground for his faltering stars. United were flying high last season when they entered a similar month and failed to win any of their matches against Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United or Arsenal. It set the tone for the season as they eventually faded away from the Champions League chase.
Failure to win against the big-guns this time could - even in a still infant Premiership - sow the seeds of doubt which, when fully grown, are very difficult to dig up and dispose of.
The evidence at St Andrews was worrying. United had six players in the side who by rights should be called up for England duty today and Birmingham were a side of Premiership bit-part players backed by a very loud and very excitable crowd.
It, like the previous two encounters against the recently promoted, should have been a case of riding out the early storm before letting class and experience come to the fore and secure the three points.
The home side, however, had not read that particular script and with Robbie Savage in the heart of the midfield - the man Leeds fans love to hate - they had someone who was clearly up for the challenge of dumping Venables' United on their backsides.
He relished every 50-50 with the look of a crazed pit-bull and battled for every lose ball with a determination which was lacking in a Leeds side which, though trying hard, could not compete physically.
Savage's on-going duel with Lee Bowyer was one of the highlights of the afternoon and it was no surprise that both of them were the very lifeblood of the teams they represented.
Bowyer even found the net for a second time this season when he latched on to a Viduka return pass to clip the ball past ex-Huddersfield keeper Nico Vaesen.
It was another quality goal from a man who will surely get his chance to play for England when Sven Goran Eriksson leads his World Cup heroes out against Portugal at Villa Park next Saturday.
His goal had equalised a first half effort from another former Yorkshire player - Paul Devlin. The former Sheffield United man's low drive from the edge of the box, after United's defence had failed to cut out a short corner routine, was too hot for Paul Robinson to get anywhere close to.
United's best spell came either side of the break as Mark Viduka saw a lobbed effort come back off the post, Harry Kewell swung a right footer against the bar and Eirik Bakke had a headed effort from Ian Harte's free-kick disallowed.
Bowyer's goal gave the Venables and the following army of United fans hope that their class would finally tell. However, it was a touch of quality at the other end which decided the match.
Bakke, who has struggled in the last two matches with his new role, gave the ball away to Damien Johnson and the former Blackburn man played a one-two with Stern John before curling a stunner beyond Robinson.
Birmingham's first win in the Premiership sent the home fans into raptures but left Venables with a few things to think about as he awaits for his stars to return from international duty.
Nobody ever said this was going to be easy - just ask Mr O'Leary.