Four-midable Zigic dents United hopes

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THREE goals in seven second half minutes from giant striker Nicola Zigic stunned Leeds United and left them looking at a heavy defeat in Tuesday night’s unbelievable Npower Championship game at Elland Road, writes Tony Harber.

After somehow getting out of jail in their previous two home games it was the other way round this time for the Whites as they took a 19th minute lead through Ross McCormack and were the better side for the first hour only to suffer a sudden and unexpected collapse.

The young United back four was taught a harsh lesson by Serbian striker Zigic, who scored all four of Birmingham’s goals in their eventual 4-1 win to become Leeds’ tormentor for the second time this season after netting the winner in the sides’ previous meeting at Birmingham in October.

Remarkably the 6ft 7 Zigic has only notched nine goals all season - and five of them have come against Leeds.

Yet it was all about the other centre forward in the game in the early stages as Luciano Becchio could have had a hat-trick in the first four minutes.

Leeds were fast out of the blocks and Becchio beat keeper Boaz Myhill to meet an Andros Townsend cross only to see his header cleared by defender David Murphy. Robert Snodgrass got to the rebound, but took too long to get a shot away and was blocked out.

The ball was quickly played in again by McCormack only for Becchio to be unable to get much of a touch on the ball as he stretched to meet the low cross on the edge of the six-yard box.

The Argentine striker had a much clearer opportunity soon after when McCormack’s pass sent him clean through, but he shot wide with only the keeper to beat.

Birmingham showed they carried a threat when Andy Lonergan had to turn a Wade Elliott shot over, but it was United who went ahead when McCormack was allowed to bring a long ball down and easily got round Curtis Davies to plant a shot past Myhill from the edge of the box.

The visitors got over their early wobbles and gradually settled to play some good football in midfield. The movement of Elliott and height of Zigic were to become a threat and the two combined for an equaliser on 31minutes as the Serbian got ahead of Tom Lees to head home.

The Leeds response was good and after Fabian Delph and Lees sent efforts wide they were unlucky in first half injury-time when McCormack’s goalbound shot was blocked.

More chances followed early in the second half as Becchio’s header was well saved by Myhill and he had a great 30-yard thunderbolt turned over by the keeper, who also made an easier save from Darren O‘Dea‘s header.

But the whole game changed just after the hour mark when Chris Burke was allowed to get to the bye-line and his pull back was met by the unmarked Zigic, who finished emphatically into the top corner.

It seemed that Leeds heads dropped and Zigic was left unmarked again to head home his hat-trick goal.

The Birmingham player then helped himself to his fourth when out jumping Lonergan to meet a corner.

Mercifully Leeds were spared more punishment as the Serbian striker immediately limped off, but there was precious little fight from the Whites and they rarely looked like reducing the arrears in a dire last 20 minutes.

Becchio had one last chance, but could only head wide at the near post. It was one of those nights for him and for the Leeds team, although ironically they had played their best football for some time at Elland Road for the first hour with Delph showing glimpses of the talent he showed first time round at the club and Snodgrass outstanding on the right wing.

Match facts

Leeds United 1

(McCormack 19)

Birmingham City 4

(Zigic 31, 61, 65, 68)

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Npower Championship

Att: 19,628

Leeds: Lonergan, Thompson, Lees, O’Dea, White, Snodgrass, Clayton, Delph, Townsend, Becchio, McCormack.

Birmingham: Myhill, Spector, Caldwell, Davies, Murphy, Burke, Fahey, Mutch, Gomis (Redmond 80), Elliott, Zigic (Rooney 80).

Referee: Mike Dean.