AFTER a poor performance in which they were lucky to escape with a point against Charlton on Tuesday, Leeds United boss Neil Warnock has backed his team to shape up much better in the second of three home games in eight days today, writes Tony Harber.
The Whites face Birmingham City with a chance of climbing into the play-off places in the Npower Championship, but know they will have to improve on a lifeless display in front of a disappointing crowd of 17,484.
Perhaps it was a reaction to the pandemonium of the previous match at Hillsborough when the spectre of crowd trouble returned to haunt Leeds, but with the Whites managing just one shot on target all night - David Norris’s 36th minute goal - it was a game to forget.
Charlton were little better, but after Dorian Dervite equalised four minutes into the second half it was they who came closest to snatching a win and would have had it but for two great saves late on by Paddy Kenny.
Results are currently papering over cracks for United as they were also outplayed at times in their previous two games against Sheffield Wednesday and Barnsley, but the fact they still came out of the three games unbeaten and with five points highlighted again the battling qualities of Warnock’s side.
The manager was pleased to have taken a draw from the latest game
He said: “I said to the players they had done well to play like that and pick up a point. We were that poor.
“When I look at the whole game it was there to win. But we didn’t have a spark, the crowd didn’t have a spark and it was flat. I don’t know why that was, maybe people were still flat after the weekend. We were lethargic in a lot of departments.
“Norris took his goal well and I just wish we could have gone on and won. I thought we could, but in the end we were hanging on for a point.
“But we’ll have more zip about us on Saturday against Birmingham and we can’t be that bad again.”
Warnock was forced to make changes to the side that drew 1-1 at Sheffield Wednesday with star midfielder Rodolph Austin and defender Lee Peltier both ruled out with ankle injuries and goal hero from Hillsborough Michael Tonge only on the bench because of still feeling the effects of a shoulder injury.
The latter came on to play the last half-hour and is be expected to return to the side for the visit of Birmingham and the other absentees could also be back, although they have undergone scans.
Warnock said: “Rudy has had a scan, he has a slight problem with his ankle. I was disappointed with the Jamaica team because he flew over there with the injury and they had to play him in the second game, but could have taken him off with 15 minutes or so to go when 3-1 up.
“Pelts had a scan as well, but I don’t think there’s anything too much wrong and he was feeling a bit better on Tuesday. I think we’ll be okay come the weekend.
“We missed Tongey’s presence on Tuesday. I didn’t think he would come out in the second half at Wednesday if I’m honest, never mind a score a goal like that. It was fantastic.
“He’s got some guts and would have played Tuesday, but talking to the physio and seeing the agony he was in I didn’t think he could do both.
“Seeing Paul Green and Luke Varney pushing I thought I’d change things around and see how Tongey is on Saturday.”
Opponents Birmingham arrive at Elland Road looking to kick start a campaign that has not taken off for them yet since managerial change in the summer from Chris Hughton to Lee Clark.
Their defensive stability of last season when they went so close to promotion has gone as they have conceded 21 goals in their first 12 league games and they are surprisingly fifth from bottom, but are only six points behind Leeds and showed their battling qualities in a 3-3 draw at Millwall on Tuesday night.
Today’s game brings a chance of revenge for the mauling the Whites received at the hands of Birmingham at Elland Road last season and the man who did most of the damage that night, Nikola Zigic, will not be able to repeat his four-goal feat as he will be serving the last in a three-match ban for a sending off against Huddersfield.