Three points, what a relief! Probably the best way to sum up today, at this stage in the season and the run that Leeds have been on, the result was all that mattered today. In truth, it was a very even game, one that Ian Holloway will be ruing his team lost and in turn putting Millwall in serious trouble down at the bottom too. For Brian McDermott, it was a welcome result and one the players have owed both the fans and the manager, especially after the last two home outings.
Leeds were unchanged from their spiritied defeat at Burnley, McDermott obviously happy with the progress he saw at Turf Moor to stick with the same eleven. The first 15 minutes saw lots of Millwall possession but not a lot in the final third but worrying for Leeds fans, holes were still appearing in the centre of our midfield and defence, often leaving us exposed, Jack Butland was forced into a few early saves, including one vital one in which he just managed to save Jason Pearce from scoring his second own goal in two games.
The Whites had gone 4-4-2 with Matt Smith partnering Ross McCormack upfront with Connor Wickham and Alex Mowatt offering the width, which to be fair to them, they did fairly well.
Leeds’ first opportunity was no more than a half chance which Smith somehow managed to take. Wickham launched in a long throw and similar to Burnley the week before, Smith got up well but instead of finding his strike partner, this time he looped a fantastic header over David Forde to give Leeds the lead out of nowhere. Again, this was a great example of what a useful player Matt Smith is to us, people may not like the style of football it encourages but we’re not going to pass many teams off the park are we but with Smith we can bully them. Before the goal, Millwall were actually winning every header and competing well but being the size of Matt Smith you are bound to contest them well and he won the one that counts.
This goal settled Leeds down who started to win a few more second balls, Luke Murphy, who has made great strides in recent weeks, harassed the Millwall midfield whilst Mowatt and Wickham offered good options out wide.
Leeds’ struggling defence was holding firm, Pearce in particular looking back to the Pearce of old, winning every challenge he went in for and Tom Lees also looking better. It was actually a Lees challenge that set up our second goal in the lead up to half time, a good sliding tackle from the man making his 125th Leeds appearance somehow set McCormack away. He has sometimes being questioned about his ability to score one on ones but the Scot made no mistake with this one; beautifully sliding the ball through Forde’s legs and putting Leeds two goals to the good.
It was static defending from Millwall but McCormack was alert and the finish was class, he knew exactly what he was doing it by putting it through the keepers legs as it was really the only way he could score from that position. Fresh from losing out to Danny Ings for the Championship player of the season, unfortunately in my eyes, it puts Ross well on the way to scoring 30 in the Championship, a great achievement in any side, let alone one in mid table.
Half time came and after an on field appearance from Vinnie Jones, including a well-orchestrated rendition of Marching on Together, I was expecting a quick tempo in the second half but in truth it just never really kick started. Leeds were happy to let Millwall play in front of them and look to chip away on the counter attack and the Lions were unable to create anything concrete.
On the hour mark, McCormack had a good opportunity to put Leeds further ahead from a similar angle but opting for power this time, fired wide. Wickham was also putting in a great shift down the left, often beating his man and putting Leeds on the front foot and on the other flank it was encouraging to see Mowatt and Sam Byram link up pretty well and whilst they over played it sometimes, there seemed to be a good understanding between them built up from their youth team days.
The game was meandering along when all of a sudden it was sprung into life with DJ Cambpell firing in an unstoppable strike from 25 yards which Butland could do little about. It sat up kindly for the striker but it was some strike, sitting right behind it in the kop, you could see it was in as soon as it left his boot. This left Leeds a nervous 20 minutes to see out and all of a sudden you could feel the tension as the defence dropped five yards deeper and whilst Millwall were still playing infront of them, it was now only right outside our own penalty box!
Introducing their big Austrian striker, they went a bit more direct and put a lot of balls on Leeds which tested them physically and mentally. There were a few hearts in mouths, including a major session of ping ball in the penalty box which I’m still not sure what actually happened there and a few knock downs which took last ditch clearances to keep Leeds ahead. McDermott brought on Michael Tonge and Noel Hunt to try slow down matters and run down the clock, something in fairness they managed to do well come extra time and also could have added to the score line when Forde spilled a cross to the feet of McCormack whose effort was cleared off the line along with the follow up but it mattered not as the whistle went straight after.
A tough match against a physical team scrapping for their lives, McDermott sounded very pleased after the game especially with his defence. The game shouldn’t paper over the cracks as there’s still a lot of work to be done, a better team could have had more joy today but that doesn’t particularly matter at the moment, what matters is that we broke our winless streak.
Stand out players for me were Pearce at the back, Smith up front and in particularly Wickham out wide. Not a winger, not by a long stretch, our loanee put in a great shift which was warmly appreciated by the fans, not only his attacking play; he beat more players than Kebe and Stewart have combined so far this season but also his tracking back was impressive. It’s a role I don’t want to see Wickham in, this guy is a great goal scorer but credit must go to him for doing as McDermott has asked and playing off Smith upfront and giving us width.
As for Millwall, I genuinely hope this is the last time we play them for a while. I don’t think any Leeds fan will be sorry to see them go down. After our first goal one fan somehow got onto the pitch before he was wrestled to the ground by police, as I was at the other end of the ground, I can’t really say how that happened or what he did but gladly, he was dealt with accordingly.
Millwall will be up against it for the rest of the season, no doubt about it but in Ian Holloway, they have a decent manager at this level who will get his team up for the fight. One can only imagine their disappointment when they won’t be able ‘welcome’ Leeds to the Den next season, not to mention the Met Police!
As for Leeds, it’s something to build on. A tough trip to Bournemouth ahead for us on Tuesday then another team towards the foot of the table in the shape of Doncaster Rovers. Today was a vital result as you don’t want to start losing to teams at the bottom as in no time you can find yourself down there too, similar to what happened to us last season. The rest of this campaign is about two things; one, sorting out this takeover and two, ending this season on a high and giving both us and the manager encouraging signs to build on for next season.
Reporter – Daniel Howard