It was entirely fitting that one of Leeds United’s “own”, Kalvin Phillips should score the winning goal as they beat Birmingham City 1-0 in their big centenary celebration game at Elland Road.
In front of the biggest Elland Road crowd of the season so far Phillips came up with the only goal of the game midway through the second half to the relief of the home supporters who were to celebrate the club’s history.
There were fireworks before the game and a parade of Leeds United legends on the pitch before kick-off. The game itself did not quite live up to the big build-up and ended with Leeds and Birmingham fans having to be kept apart by police and stewards after visiting fans attempted to interrupt celebrations at the end.
But on the pitch the points were important for the Whites after defeat at Millwall in their previous game and head coach Marcelo Bielsa was in no doubt of the value of the win.
He said: “It was a really important match for us to win.
“We had one of the best first halves we have played. But we started the second half with a little doubt.
“After the goal we had three chances to finish the match and from then on we allowed the opponent to control the ball and when they had possession of the ball they had chances to score.
“The players were very focused on the match (despite the centenary celebrations). It was difficult for us to score, but we played well in the first half. We didn’t start well in the second half, but then we scored and had three more chances.
“I’m not happy with the way we closed the match. We had the option to finish the match and after that we gave them the ball. When you are only one goal in the lead in the last minute it is always difficult.”
On the day of celebration, Bielsa added: “I feel proud to have taken this job at a club with such a proud history.”
It was initially shaping up as a frustrating afternoon as the first half ended goalless with the Whites typically dominating possession, but also too typically failing to take advantage of getting in behind the Birmingham defence on numerous occasions.
For all their attacking intentions and control of the game United created precious few clear chances and failed to make anything of seven first half corners.
They made a positive start as Patrick Bamford got in behind the visitors’ defence down the left in the second minute, but it set a pattern for the half as he fired his cross straight at keeper Lee Camp.
Gianni Alioski forced Camp into his first real save on seven minutes with a shot from the edge of the box, but more promising attacks ended with crosses failing to beat the first man or final passes being cut out.
The lively Alioski hit another shot wide from outside the box before the first clear opportunity fell to Bamford as he was slipped in down the left only to hit his angled shot just wide.
Soon after Bamford made poor contact with a header from a corner and Birmingham survived again.
The visitors managed their first shot on 32 minutes, a weak effort from outside the box by Fran Villalba that went harmlessly wide. They were competitive, but never threatened to score in the opening 45 minutes.
Leeds had one more good chance when Bamford ran onto a ball over the top, but chose to backheel a pass to Helder Costa instead of shooting. Costa saw his shot blocked and when the ball was played back in Stuart Dallas’s shot was saved by Camp.
Bielsa responded to what had gone on in the first half by putting Eddie Nketiah on for Bamford, but there was not much of an instant response, although Alioski hit an angled free-kick wide from inches outside the box.
Nketiah saw a shot from the edge of the box comfortably saved by Camp, but Birmingham were beginning to become more of a threat with Villalba inches away from scoring with a 20-yard shot and Alvaro Gimenez also going close after Jack Harrison had been caught in possession 30 yards from his own goal.
It was out of the blue when Leeds finally broke the deadlock as Harrison nipped the ball off Maxime Colin and found Kalvin Phillips in support to fire a powerful shot under Camp from just inside the area.
With the noise level suddenly going up several decibels United piled forward and almost had three more goals in the next three minutes.
Nketiah shot just wide, Harrison’s angled shot was deflected just wide and Alioski saw his snap shot saved.
Birmingham responded with Jude Bellingham and Lukas Jutkiewicz both getting in decent shots from outside the box that brought the first saves of the day from Kiko Casilla.
Alioski had a great chance to double United’s lead when working a great move down the left only to blaze over from close range with his right foot.
They could have been made to pay for the miss when the visitors put in a big finish. Kristian Pedersen headed over from a long throw and Gary Gardner hit the wall with a controversially awarded free-kick 20 yards out as the game entered injury time.
One last chance fell to Birmingham, but Pedersen headed over and Leeds were home and dry for a win on their big celebration day.
Leeds United 1
Birmingham City 0
Leeds: Casilla, Ayling, White, Berardi, Alioski, Phillips, Dallas, Costa (Douglas 84), Klich (Roberts 61), Harrison, Bamford (Nketiah 45).
Birmingham: Camp, Colin, Roberts, Dean, Pedersen, Crowley (Maghoma 66), Sunjic, Bellingham (Gardner 76), Villalba, Jutkiewicz (Bailey 76), Gimenez.
Referee: Robert Jones.