Bendtner’s stylish return puts Leeds in deeper strife
Birmingham 1 Leeds 0
Birmingham City last night became the third team to lead the Coca-Cola Championship in four days with a victory that made Leeds United’s position at the other end of the table even more perilous.
The game was one of two Steve Bruce’s team had in hand on West Bromwich Albion and the win restored them to the pole position they occupied when the scheduled meeting with Leeds was postponed.
Bruce made four changes to the starting lineup that had lost away to Hull City on Saturday, including bringing in two different strikers. That meant a recall for Nicklas Bendtner and the on-loan Arsenal teenager responded by putting Birmingham ahead.
It was a goal, however, that owed much to the input of Gary McSheffrey. A foul on him by Jonathan Douglas resulted in the Birmingham winger taking the subsequent free kick and putting the Leeds goal under its first real threat.
David Healy prevented that from creeping inside Graham Stack’s left-hand post at the expense of a corner. McSheffrey sent in an inswinger and Bendtner glanced a header past Stack.
Rather than settle the hosts, Bendtner’s goal served as a tonic for the visiting team. Rob-bie Blake, once of Birmingham himself, opened up the home defence only to fail to find the unmarked Healy with his pullback from the byline.
Manuel Rui Marques went close with a header but still Birmingham failed to heed the warnings and escaped punishment from a passage of play that is likely to fuel demands for the introduction of video technology to assist officials. Richard Cresswell, one-on-one with Colin Doyle, had his shot pushed on to the post by the Birmingham goalkeeper and Stephen Clemence hacked the ball to safety as it threatened to dribble over the goalline. The Leeds supporters, stationed behind the goal, were convinced that the ball had crossed the line. Not so Rob Styles’s assistant, who was in no position to judge.
Leeds’ pursuit of the equaliser left them vulnerable to the counter-attack and Bendtner came within inches of doubling Birmingham’s tally.
Having collected Stephen Kelly’s long ball forward, the Denmark forward outpaced Matt Heath before sending a shot just over Stack’s crossbar.
Birmingham, perhaps under instructions from Bruce that attack was the best form of defence, shed their caution after the interval. Sebastian Larsson and McSheffrey began to stretch the Leeds defence by using the space on the flanks, affording Bendtner and Rowan Vine more room for manoeuvre down the middle.
Dennis Wise, the Leeds manager, responded by introducing two attacking substitutes in Ian Moore and Jemal Jackson but the gambit did little to lift the siege on his team’s goal. Nevertheless, Leeds’ most anxious moment until Bendtner twice went close in the final five minutes was self-inflicted: the hapless Cresswell inadvertently testing Stack by deflecting a diagonal cross from McSheffrey that the Leeds keeper tipped to safety via his crossbar.
Bendtner almost added a second in the dying moments only to see his powerful shot well saved by Stack and, set up by McSheffrey, should have done better but fired against the outside of a post.