Chris Wood’s double strike and a first goal in English football from Alfonso Pedraza earned Leeds United another three points with a 3-1 victory at Birmingham City.
The Whites had to ride their luck as the hosts dominated for much of the first hour, but a strong finish following two excellent substitutions saw them home for a win that took them 11 points clear of seventh-placed Fulham, who they play next.
Kalvin Phillips played a key role after coming on in midfield for the out of touch Eunan O’Kane while Spanish winger Pedraza also played his part after coming on for Stuart Dallas to play a more attacking role on the left flank.
In Leeds’ starting line-up there was just one change from the side that beat Sheffield Wednesday with Dallas back in for Hadi Sacko.
And it was Dallas quickly in the action with a 30-yard shot after just 45 seconds that was saved by home keeper Tomasz Kuszczak.
Birmingham responded as David Davis fired into the side netting from a tight angle and United keeper Rob Green got his angles right to deny Che Adams.
Leeds went ahead in the 14th minute as Wood chased onto a long ball forward by Luke Ayling and with a one touch finish lobbed the ball over Kuszczak into the net for a goal only an in-form player could get.
It was not the cue for United domination as Davis fired wide when well placed in the box and Paul Robinson saw a shot blocked by Kyle Bartley after a goalmouth scramble from a corner.
Souleymane Doukara hit a shot wide from distance for Leeds while Craig Gardner did likewise for City.
Maikel Kieftenbeld’s cross-shot was comfortably dealt with by Green as another dangerous home attack came to nothing.
Birmingham came closer just before half-time when Robert Tesche hit the crossbar with a sweetly struck volley from the outside of the box and the follow-up was headed straight to Green.
Leeds threatened in the first minute of the second half with Wood’s shot well blocked by Robinson following a dangerous break.
But Birmingham then took a firm grip on the game with their back three formation giving the Whites trouble.
Adams almost scored three times. First, his header was cleared off the line by Bartley then Tesche’s low shot fell for the striker only for him to be unable to divert the ball on target and finally he got in behind the defence but his shot was saved by Green.
A deserved equaliser did arrive on 63 minutes when Gardner’s 25-yard shot flicked off Dallas to go low into the bottom corner of the net.
But Leeds responded brilliantly. Phillips combined well with Doukara down the right and the substitute’s low cross found Wood unmarked in the middle to finish calmly for his 25th goal of the season.
Davis hit a 20-yarder well wide, but that was more or less the last seen of the hosts in attack as United took command in the closing quarter.
Pablo Hernandez came close to making it 3-1 following a good run by Ayling with a shot well held by the keeper.
But two minutes later Leeds did have the ball in the net again as Phillips won the ball in midfield and Hernandez’s through ball gave Pedraza space to fire past Kuszczak with a fine strike from an angle.
Adams did hit a shot wide from the edge of the box for Birmingham, but United looked more likely to score in the closing stages with Wood latching onto a defensive error only to see his shot saved by Kuszczak.
Garry Monk wad more relieved than delighted with the victory,.
He said: “I thought we were second best for the first 60 minutes.
Credit to Birmingham, we had a lot of defending situations we had to do. We did them well, but it was more than we would have liked.
“But after the hour mark we grew into the game, we started to get that front foot, wrestle a bit more control and look very dangerous.
“We started to create more opportunities and got good goals at good times.
“Overall I’m very happy with the three points, that was the main part.
“All in all we won the game comfortably towards the end.
“Our mentality is strong, you can see that in the first 60 minutes when we weren’t at our best.”
Birmingham City 1
Leeds United 3
(Wood 14, 67, Pedraza 80)
Friday, March 3, 2017
Birmingham: Kuszczak, Nsue, Dacres-Cogley, Shotton, Robinson, Keita, Kieftenbeld (Jutkiewicz 62), Tesche, Davis, Gardner, Adams (Sinclair 89).
Leeds: Green, Ayling, Bartley, Jansson, Berardi, O’Kane (Phillips 58), Bridcutt, Doukara, Hernandez (Roofe 82), Dallas (Pedraza 73), Wood. Subs: Cooper, Phillips, Barrow, Pedraza, Sacko, Roofe.
Referee: Christopher Kavanagh.