Fri 03 Mar 17
at 22:00 PM
Report: Blues 1 Leeds United 3
Craig Gardner’s first goal since his return to Blues wasn’t enough to earn anything from a pulsating encounter with high-flying Leeds United.
The midfielder cancelled out Chris Wood’s first-half opener for the visitors, crashing in a shot from outside the area just after the hour mark to the delight of the fans behind that Tilton Road goal.
But former St. Andrew’s loanee Wood was still to have a decisive say in proceedings, tapping in from close range to quickly restore his side’s lead and complete a match-winning brace.
Alfonso Pedraza put the game out of Blues’ reach with a third goal for Leeds on 81 minutes.
It was harsh on Gianfranco Zola’s men who played some great football, created numerous chances and got in plenty of shots – 27 compared to Leeds’ 10 – including a Robert Tesche shot that struck the bar, but ultimately gained no reward for their efforts.
Zola named an unchanged starting 11 from the one that beat Wolves a week ago, with the fit-again duo of Jonathan Grounds and Lukas Jutkiewicz named amongst the substitutes.
The visitors were first to threaten as Stuart Dallas fired in a long-range shot that was straight into the midriff of Tomasz Kuszczak.
On eight minutes, Gardner cut inside and unleashed a curling shot for Blues that deflected up in the air off the back of former St. Andrew’s loanee Kyle Bartley. The alert Che Adams sensed his chance and got to the ball just before it went out of the play but his volley flew into the side-netting from the narrowest of angles.
Blues were playing some lovely possession football and created their second good opportunity on 13 minutes when Josh Dacres-Cogley’s chipped ball forward was flicked on by Gardner. Adams raced onto the ball and his fierce half-volley from the right side of the area was arrowing towards the far bottom corner before the fingertips of Rob Green diverted the shot around the post.
Just 60 seconds later, Leeds went ahead against the run of play. And it was a goal out of nothing. There looked to be little danger when Luke Ayling hopefully punted the ball forward from the right-back position. But Ryan Shotton misjudged the bounce as it dropped over his head and Wood showed great predatory instincts to stick out a leg and lob the ball over the advancing Kuszczak.
Blues continued to pose a danger going forward and with better finishing could have levelled matters. Emilio Nsue set up David Davis with a chance inside the area but the midfielder’s hurried shot flew wide.
Another goalmouth melee followed from a corner with the ball bouncing around just outside the six-yard box but no one in a royal blue shirt able to apply the vital contact, Paul Robinson swinging his leg wildly but missing.
A rare Leeds attacking foray on 25 minutes ended with Souleymane Doukara’s wayward shot that had the power but was very lacking in direction.
Three minutes later and Cheick Keita displayed his electric pace for the first time as he burst between two defenders only to be subsequently tripped. Gardner took the subsequent free-kick wide on the right and floated the ball towards goal, but it dipped just too late and landed on the top of Green’s net.
Keita provided Gardner with another opportunity soon afterwards as the Frenchman teed up his team-mate just outside the box, but with roll of the ball wasn’t helpful and the midfielder miscued his shot wide.
Gardner inadvertently handed the visitors a shooting chance on 39 minutes when the ball ricocheted off him into the path of Dallas but the Northern Irishman blasted his effort over from 20 yards.
Only the woodwork denied Blues a deserved equaliser two minutes before the break – also preventing Robert Tesche from scoring what would have almost certainly been the goal of the season. Keita’s header dropped invitingly for the German 30 yards out, he steadied himself and unleashed a terrific half-volley that had Green beaten all ends up, but frustratingly it crashed back off the crossbar.
It was all Blues again at the start of the second period and three chances came Adams’ way in the space of just two minutes.
Maikel Kieftenbeld cut the ball back from the byline and Adams got up well to meet the cross, his header beating Green but cleared from just in front of the line by Bartley. Moment later, Tesche’s shot from outside the area was flying wide before Adams stuck out a leg and was unfortunate to see his instinctive shot fly over.
From Blues’ next attack, this time it was Nsue that created the chance, his threaded pass picking out Adams on the right side of the area. The former Sheffield United man swung his right foot at the ball but the legs of Green denied him.
Zola made an attacking change on 62 minutes as Jutkiewicz replaced Kieftenbeld and his positive approach paid dividends almost immediately.
Blues restored parity within 60 seconds and no one inside the ground could say that the home side didn’t deserve it. Another spell of concerted pressure culminated in the ball falling to the feet of Gardner 20 yards out. The popular midfielder let fly with his trusty left boot and ball took a slightest of deflections off the back of Dallas and nestled beautifully into the bottom corner of the net.
But all the hard work to get back on level terms was chalked off within four minutes. Doukara laid the ball into Kalvin Philips’ path on the right side of the area and the Leeds sub cut it back behind the onrushing Dacres-Cogley to Wood. It was the easiest of tap-in chances and one that the Championship’s most prolific marksman wasn’t going to pass up.
Blues were indebted to the safe handling of Kuszczak lead 11 minutes from time, the Pole flying to his right to grasp Pablo Hernandez’s shot. But two minutes later the Spaniard set up the visitors’ third goal which all but extinguished the hosts’ hopes of getting anything from the game.
Hernandez played the ball out to the left side of the area to fellow countryman Pedraza who crashed an unstoppable shot past Kuszczak into the bottom corner.
Adams continued to keep the Leeds’ backline on its toes, turning inside to curl a shot just wide of Green’s left-hand post.
At the other end, Wood was denied his hat-trick as Kuszczak beat away his stoppage-time shot but the New Zealand international will go away satisfied with his night, his two goals taking him top of the division’s scoring charts.
Blues can again take heart from their performance but they were undone by the clinical fashion of Leeds’ finishing.