THE hairlines may be receding and greying at the temples a little and the waistlines are a bit thicker these days, but Leeds United’s legends will have felt young again midway through the second half on Saturday.
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The great and the good of this famous club were on their feet like most of the 35,731 crowd in attendance when a local boy in Kalvin Phillips delivered the game-clinching moment in front of the Gelderd End on 65 minutes.
It was a reminder of previous successful days of yore for those who donned the revered white jersey.
As Phillips celebrated with his team-mates amid an explosion of joy around most of Elland Road, it truly will have felt good to be alive for those legends in attendance.
After all, nothing can beat that special sense of match-day exhilaration in scoring a key goal in front of a full house and making countless people’s weekend. It is something money cannot buy.
It just made it that little bit extra special and with the legends being here and a lot of people watching the game.Match-winner Kalvin Phillips
How fitting it was that Phillips, the all-action, pulsating heartbeat of the Leeds United of today should provide it.
As Marcelo Bielsa eloquently put it afterwards: “Sometimes God puts things in the right place.”
Made in Leeds and this was Phillips’s gift to the people of Leeds, his city and his club as the Whites 100th birthday celebrations ended in victory. Again, it felt wholly appropriate.
Phillips may have felt a little bit ‘under the weather’ on Thursday after going home from training early and missing the club’s centenary dinner in the evening. But there was no way he was going to miss Saturday. No way at all.
He said: “I was back training on Friday, but I knew on Thursday that I had to get as well as possible. I wanted to play and was going to play. I would not have wanted to miss it.
“The manager just had a word with me and asked if I was feeling good. Even if I was not feeling good, I would have always said: ‘yes, I am feeling all right.’
“I was lucky enough to meet Lucas Radebe downstairs on Friday and I asked him for a photo and he said: ‘Are you sure you want a photo? ’
“I was very happy I saw Lucas and Jermaine Beckford and (Luciano) Becchio as well. They are players I grew up watching and I used to watch them from the Kop end scoring goals.
“It was surreal. But I am very glad I scored the goal and they were cheering me on as well.”
On his first home goal for Leeds since May, 2018, Phillips said: “I think it was just written in the stars.
“I think just with the week that has been going on and even the walk out with the fireworks and stuff, it just made it that little bit extra special and with the legends being here and a lot of people watching the game.
“I had my mum ringing me as soon as I got in the changing rooms saying well done and my girlfriend ringing me.
“I was very happy about it and, hopefully, I will get a phone call from Granny Val soon.”
Birmingham may have dined out at Leeds’ expense in recent times – they were chasing their fourth successive win against the Whites ahead of the game – but more glorious episodes against the Blues can be found in the club’s history.
An FA Cup semi-final cruise at Hillsborough for instance in April, 1972 as Leeds booked their place in the centenary final, and also comfortably sealing a Wembley berth in the League Cup final in 1996 after sinking the Midlanders 5-1 on aggregate.
This latest win was rather less emphatic and Leeds made unnecessarily heavy weather of it as they failed, once again, to score a second goal in a home league game this season.
Yet amid all the emotion on a day laden with expectation, one moment was enough on an occasion when Leeds secured their third clean sheet of the season on home soil with relative ease.
This time, there was no late sting like in the games against Nottingham Forest, Derby County and Swansea City.
Yes, there will be ongoing conjecture about Leeds’s inability to put teams to bed and poor conversion rate of chances to goals.
But their approach play remains laudable and the best defensive record in the Championship should provide further reassurance. As does the table.
Rather less gratifying were some unsavoury scenes after the end of the game, when some visiting fans clashed with stewards and police. It was the one downer on a special afternoon.
After the fireworks and fanfare ahead of the game when a galaxy of Leeds legends were presented to the crowd, those in home jerseys painted their customary pretty pictures on the pitch and moved the ball around with aplomb but the resolution and discipline of the Blues was firm.
A Birmingham head or boot cleared most things that were thrust in their direction in the first half, with the Blues enduring just two dangerous moments.
Patrick Bamford, whose run without a home goal continued, drilled a low shot just wide and Stuart Dallas should have done better when he fired at Lee Camp.
Clearly having seen enough, Bielsa called for the cavalry of sorts in Eddie Nketiah. But, in the event, it was left to Phillips to take matters into his own hands.
A loose pass from Jude Bellingham sold Collin short and the alert Jack Harrison was quick to capitalise before finding Phillips, who fired home a true low shot past Camp to settle the nerves.
Gjanni Alioski missed a glorious chance to seal it, with Birmingham pressing at the death.
Fortunately, this time, there was no late twist and home patrons breathed again and enjoyed one last piece of birthday cake.