Friday 3rd March, 19:45
Live on Sky Sports 1
Craig Gardner took the Birmingham squad out for dinner in the days leading up to their date with Wolves last Friday and the gesture certainly appeared to rally the troops as out-of-form Blues bagged a surprise 2-1 victory at Molineux in their most recent outing.
Gianfranco Zola‘s side had few opportunities in front of goal but capitalised on Carl Ikeme’s error and former Wolves midfielder David Davis curled in a second before Birmingham showed character to ward off the Old Gold’s resurgence.
The Italian head coach has demanded a repeat performance at St Andrew’s here as Blues bid for back-to-back victories for the first time since November and under Zola’s watch. Meanwhile, strikers Clayton Donaldson and Lukas Jutkiewicz and defenders Michael Morrison and Johnathan Grounds are unlikely to be fit.
Leeds cemented their position in the top-six with their own derby success, beating promotion rivals Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 at Elland Road. A hard-fought encounter was decided by one penalty save and one defensive slip, both going in the Whites’ favour.
Chris Wood scored the only goal of a tepid affair that featured only two shots on-target. The New Zealander took advantage of Vincent Sasso’s slip while Rob Green‘s denied Jordan Rhodes from the spot to see United extend their unbeaten streak to three.
Head coach Garry Monk now boasts a better record than all Leeds managers since Simon Grayson despite taking charge of only 34 games. However, Monk will serve a one-match touchline ban here with Charlie Taylor’s involvement rated doubtful.
Birmingham have managed only three league wins in 16 since November, losing on eight occasions in 13 Championship matches under Gianfranco Zola’s watch. The hosts have W2-D1-L5 in their last eight at St Andrew’s and so are understandable 3.30 outsiders here.
Leeds 2.40 have W5-D2-L2 on their travels since mid-October with Brighton the only side to silence the Whites in that nine-match spell. The visitors have recorded W18-D3-L7 over their past 28 league outings, an impressive average of 2.04 points per-game.
United tend to be slow starters under Monk, feeling their way into matches before striking with a knockout blow in the second-half. The Whites have W9-D20-L5 in the half-time standings with 10 of their 16 away days also being level at the interval.
In 10 of their 20 half-time draws, Leeds have gone on to claim maximum points, including in four of their seven triumphs in games as guests. The odds on a repeat of the Draw/Leeds double result 6.00 are generous enough to get involved.
Birmingham have shutout only four of their past 27 opponents and with each of their past four league fixtures featuring Over 2.5 Goals, a repeat can be backed at a bulbous 2.28 on Friday night.
It’s a selection that’s proven profitable in six of the Blues’ last eight when welcoming top-six sides, as well as six of Leeds’ most recent 10 away days. Considering the duo are returning a collective average of 2.80 expected goals per-game in home/away games, there’s value in the Overs.
However, the visitors pride themselves on defensive organisation and stability and following last weekend’s gritty victory against Sheffield Wednesday, another pragmatic performance looks their most likely plan of attack.
Chris Wood has racked up 23 goals in all competitions this season, including 20 Championship strikes at a rate of a goal every 133 minutes. The 25-year-old has already scored against 16 Championship teams this season and he is on course to score against all 23 clubs if he notches on Friday.
Wood’s notched in 21 competitive games this campaign and opened the scoring in 13 of those fixtures, as well as six of his last 14 outings. With the New Zealand international a major threat from set-pieces, as well as being Leeds’ nominated penalty-taker, the 4.40 on Wood breaking the deadlock is too good to ignore.