Tuesday 31st January 2012 – Kickoff: 1945hrs
Leeds United entertain play-off hopefuls and rivals Birmingham City at Elland Road on Tuesday night as both teams look for all three points to lift them into the play-off places.
Just two places and one point separate the two sides with Leeds currently occupying 9th place and 42 points in total. Leeds are unbeaten in their last three league matches overall with home wins over Burnley and Ipswich Town along with an away draw at Crystal Palace, but recent home defeats to fellow Yorkshire outfit Barnsley and play-off rivals Reading suggest that they can be vulnerable against the top teams.
Home losses to Middlesbrough and Blackpool along with a point against Cardiff City are proof of this while their overall home record stands at 7-2-4 20/17. Up front Ross McCormack (12 goals, 3 assists) and influential midfielder Robert Snodgrass (10 goals, 9 assists) lead their goalscoring, the latter being a player that surely must be picked up soon by one of the Premiership clubs soon.
One of their midfielders has done just that, midfielder and skipper Jonny Howson has signed for Norwich City, a move that is not a popular decision amongst many Leeds fans at the moment.
Luciano Becchio (4 goals) and former Birmingham City striker Mikael Forssell also provide attacking options, but Leeds do have an Achilles heel which is their often suspect defence; just two clean sheets in all home matches so far underlines their frailties.
Birmingham City are one of the in-form teams in the Championship right now and another three points here would propel them into fourth spot leapfrogging Hull City, Middlesbrough and Reading.
The Blues will be looking for their sixth straight win in all competitions following their Saturday’s FA Cup fourth round win at Sheffield United running out convincing 4-0 winners in what I must say, was an eyebrow-raising result despite their opponents being a division lower than them.
Away results have never been Birmingham’s forte but that’s now three on the bounce for Chris Hughton’s men with wins at Millwall 6-0, Premiership Wolves and Sheffield United. Overall, it’s now six matches without losing for the Bluenoses and they will go into this fixture believing they’ll get at least a point.
Their away record stands at 3-3-7 20/20 which obviously must improve if they are serious play-off material but the momentum is definitely behind them right now. The departure of Chilean winger Jean Beausejour to Wigan Athletic in my opinion underlines Hughton’s confidence in youngster and highly promising Nathan Redmond who will now be expected to play a larger part in the immediate future of Birmingham’s success.
A fit again Jordan Mutch in midfield is similar to a new signing for Birmingham, while competition for places up front with Marlon King (9 goals, 4 assists), Adam Rooney, who scored a brace at Bramall Lane on Saturday, along with Nikola Zigic (4 goals) means that for the first time in a while they have goalscoring back-up coming off the bench.
Creative midfielders Chris Burke (7 goals, 9 assists) and Wade Elliott still provide some quality around the box and the flanks and Blues should also pose the Leeds defence some problems of their own.
I think this is likely to be a draw as both teams are pretty evenly matched, but I think Blues have the edge of the two, so I’ll take them with the round ball in case they should win; perhaps a 1-1 draw or Blues to edge it 2-1.
Main Pick: Birmingham City AH0 @ 1.91 William Hill
Value Pick: Birmingham City straight win @ 2.70 William Hill