|Leeds United 3 v 2 Millwall|
Tuesday, 28th January 2020 Kick-off 19:45
Leeds storm back from 2 down to beat Millwall
Thursday, 30th Jan 2020 08:36
Just when it looked like Leeds were falling apart again, we staged a thrilling second half comeback, to beat Millwall in what could well be a season-defining game.
We all know that Marcello Bielsa likes a settled side, and to prove it he made just the one enforced change to his starting eleven, with Alioski coming in for the suspended Phillips. Which meant that Tyler Roberts had to be content with a place on the bench on his return after injury, as did new signing Poveda, while our latest signing Augustin had to watch from the stands.
We’d had a ten day break to freshen things up after the disappointment of the defeat at QPR, which influenced Gary Rowett’s decision to rest six of his first team regulars on Saturday, when they went out of the FA Cup to Sheffield United. No concentrating on the cup this year, as their huge improvement since Rowett took over has brought them to the fringe of the play-off places.
Millwall continued to look like the divisions form side as the game began, and Woods should have done a lot better than shoot over the bar from their first attack. But they did better in the fourth minute, when a corner was sent very deep beyond the far post, where it found Ayling sound asleep. He allowed Hutchinson to run past him for a free header and the Millwall man gratefully accepted the invitation to head Millwall in front.
Leeds were keen to hit back right away, and were roared on by the vast majority of the 34,000 crowd as we began to put Millwall under severe pressure. Klich shot just wide and Bamford sent the first of several shots straight at the visiting keeper. Bialkowski had to tip a dipping shot from Dallas over the bar, but the strangest incident of this spell was when the referee mysteriously gave a goal kick after another Dallas shot, when the defenders were congratulating the keeper for an excellent save!
And there was a far more significant contentious decision on 23 minutes. Not the award of the penalty after Alioski went into the back of Bodvarsson, but the officials allowing the build up to continue when the ball may well have gone out of play on the touchline. Wallace made no mistake with the spot kick, so for the second game running we conceded a goal that may well have been prevented had VAR been in use.
As the frustration began to get the better of some of us, there were several instances of coins being thrown at the Millwall players for the rest of the half, and they made sure the referee knew about it. Of course, nothing like that would ever happen to visiting players at the Den. There hasn’t been too much reporting of these incidents in the press today, but the referee will have mentioned them in his report, so we may not have heard the last of this yet.
We continued to press, and Cooper found space at a corner, but could only send his powerful header straight at Bialkowski. The keeper was intent on winding up the crowd even more by taking a month over every goal kick, and once Hernandez had sent a shot over the bar we had reached half time. As the referee walked off the crowd made sure he knew exactly what we thought of his first half performance.
Like many Leeds fans I was close to despair at the break, thinking the wheels had truly come off and our dip had developed into a fully-fledged slump. Bamford was useless and never looks like winning the ball in the air, and perhaps Bielsa’s obsessive personality was causing a bit of tension behind the scenes. I could pinpoint the exact moment when the season turned, Casilla’s error to let Cardiff back into a game we had totally dominated.
But while I was stressing out with these negative thoughts, Bielsa must have been giving the team talk of his life, as we came out for the second half full of energy, and were to give Millwall the hiding of their lives for the first 15 minutes of the second half. In truth, we had always been dominating possession while Millwall had had only two shots, but for once we were to make our dominance count.
And it took only three minutes for another season-changing moment to arrive, as Harrison forced Bialkowski into another fine save, but this time Bamford was in exactly the right place to force the ball home from close range. I always said he was a great player. Hopefully at the end of the season that goal will be seen as the great turning point, the moment we pulled out of our slump and started winning again.
Now Millwall were starting to look flat-footed and falling back on defence, allowing Alioski and Ayling more opportunities to race down the flanks from their nominal full-back positions. As we continued to press Bamford and Hernandez had shots blocked, and Alioski maybe should have been able to get the touch he needed to convert Ayling’s cross.
But even in the midst of this great spell the South-East London funsters were very close to restoring their two goal advantage. Bradshaw worked his way into space in the Leeds box and sent a shot across Casilla, who only just got a finger on the ball to divert it from it’s path into the far corner of the net. That might have killed off our fightback, but we survived to get straight back at them.
And we were back on level terms just past the hour mark, from a Hernandez shot from just outside the box. It didn’t seem that firmly struck, but it found it’s way into the far corner, possibly with the help of a deflection. Not that we cared how the goal had gone in, as Elland Road erupted, As it did once again four minutes later when we went in front.
Match Gallery: 16 photos
Bamford raced into the area to head home from Ayling’s excellent cross, with the Millwall defence having seemingly given up on doing anything energetic like tracking back to mark anyone. Bamford did a strange hands over his ears celebration, which might well have been to mock his critics, but if it was it wasn’t quite the right time to disrupt our new-found spirit.
Strangely enough, from now on Bialkowski was to be much quicker with his goal kicks and it was our turn to start wasting time. Both ends of the stadium joined in, as first the Kop and then the South Stand refused to throw the ball back once it had gone into the crowd. On the field Leeds could have sat back and protected our lead, but we opted to keep going right at them now we were well on top.
And Costa finally came to the party, after a first half when he was so anonymous I thought he may well get ‘hooked’ at the break to get Poveda on. But he was still with us, and very nearly extended our lead when he cut in from the right and sent a shot crashing against the bar. And an even better chance to kill the game off fell to Klich when the ball came through to him in plenty of space, but he could only send his shot over the bar.
I thought that would be a moment to regret had we failed to hold on for a much-needed win, and the nerves seemed to be jangling as we headed into the closing stages. Our former player Matt Smith came on with eight minutes left in the traditional “very tall striker to unsettle the defence” role, and it seemed to be working as we started to find it a little bit harder to get the ball away from our area.
Millwall won a corner and a few throw ins deep into our half, as four minutes of injury time were announced. We responded with a time-wasting substitution right at the end (Shackleton for Hernandez) as our only change of the evening, and managed to hold on until the referee brought us a great sense of relief with the final whistle.
And we even found ourselves top of the table at the end of the evening. Somehow West Brom have contrived to be even worse than us over the last month or so, and continued their own collapse in form with a defeat at Cardiff. Long may they continue to distract themselves with their FA Cup run. Our other two biggest rivals were playing each other, and perhaps the Forest win was the best result after Brentford’s recent run.
So we’ve got back to winning ways, but there is still plenty more to do. Let’s not forget that we also came from behind to beat Millwall 3-2 last season, and that didn’t do us much good in the end. We’ll have a much better idea where we stand after the next three games, with a chance to avenge that dreadful defeat by Wigan, followed by vital away games at Forest and Brentford.
But if we do eventually manage to get our promotion challenge over the line this time this is a game that will be remembered in Leeds for a very long time.
Photo: Action Images
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