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Leeds overcome stubborn Millwall to go top of the table
Sunday, 17th Mar 2024 20:06 by Tim Whelan

Millwall certainly made us work hard for this win, but eventually our class shone through, and goals from Gnonto and James were enough for us to claim our 11th win out of the last 12 league games.

With our excellent form continuing, Daniel Farke opted to stick with the same starting eleven who began our last game at Sheffield Wednesday. As ever there was a great atmosphere, though the crowd was slightly down as Millwall couldn’t sell all their tickets, and for this fixture we were never going to be allowed to have the seats just below the section occupied by the visitors.

But there were enough Millwall fans present to make a funny sort of droning noise while our anthem ‘Leeds Leeds Leeds’ was being played before kick-off. And their team was to play in much the same irritating manner throughout the game, with plenty of energy but quite frequently resorting to niggly fouls to stop us breaking through.

This was the latest in a series of games against relegation-threatened teams who had improved since a change of manager, and under Neil Harris this was always going to be a harder task than it would have been if we’d faced them a few weeks ago. As at the Den earlier in the season, they made a very lively start, and it took a good 10-15 minutes before we could start to assert our dominance.

When we did start to get into their half a lot of our moves came down the left hand side, with Summerville setting Firpo up for a cross from the byline, but the visitors were alert to the threat down that flank, always getting bodies in the way at the expense of a corner. And given that we don’t often make good use of corners, that wasn’t a bad tactic.

On the opposite flank an early flashpoint came when Cooper and Gnonto had a bit of a set-top after the ball had gone, with both players ending up in the book. I don’t know how the officials couldn’t give a free kick for Cooper’s initial challenge, but the spiky Gnonto was never going to let it pass, and pushed Cooper back to the floor as the Millwall captain tried to get up.

Just after the half hour mark the Italian should have been in on goal when Bamford won the ball and raced into their half, but overhit his ball out to Gnonto and sent him too wide for a shot, and his cross came to nothing. But Willy’s moment came shortly afterwards, as he picked up the ball on the right and cut inside, before hitting a tremendous strike from outside the area, which curled away from Sarkic into the corner of the net.

Summerville was denied by a fine save from Sarkic as he cut inside for a right foot shot, and shortly before the break we had an excellent shout for a penalty after Cooper’s knee connected with Rodon’s chest. The referee was five yards away, but nothing doing. The Millwall captain had already come close to a second yellow with a dodgy tackle before that, and then he literally chanced his arm by putting it in Rutter’s face as the Frenchman was about to race past him.

The game continued in a similar vein in the second half, but if you’re going to get a lot of free kicks it’s important to have someone on the field who can make good use of them. The best set piece taker in this matchday squad (James) was on the bench at this point, so when we got two dead balls in good positions it fell to Summerville to take them. And he duly sent both of them gently straight into Sarkic’s arms.

Although we were well on top we needed a second goal to seal the win. Rutter had an excellent chance to get it when Summerville picked him out at close range, but Sarkic made an excellent save. Though the keeper was less impressive when Rutter got to the rebound, as the ball bounced off him but came back off the post.

Neil Harris made a quadruple change to freshen up his side, and a bit of anxiety started to creep round Elland Road as they seemed to be getting back into the game. Meslier came out for a corner but didn’t reach it, but thankfully Rodon was in position to make the black, before Cooper sent his shot wide.

Then Obafemi worked his way into a dangerous position, but his shot didn’t match the quality of his approach play, and he sent the ball quite a long way wide. So it was a relief when Leeds finally got the second goal on 79 minutes. By then James had come onto the field in place of Gnonto, and the Welshman was on hand to get it after excellent work from Rutter in getting to the byline for the cross.

James kept us all waiting as he worked the ball onto the exact blade of grass he wanted in front of his right foot, but eventually he sent his shot through a defender’s legs, for the goal that sent Leeds to the top of the table. The win could have been more emphatic, as James hit the post in the closing stages, and Bamford was denied by an excellent block from close range, but this was a very well deserved three points.

To be quite honest, I can’t get all that excited about going top of the table when Leicester have the game in hand, but they would have played Southampton if it hadn’t been for their FA Cup exploits, so whatever the result of that game when it’s eventually played, this win has still improved our position in the promotion race.

With only eight games to go we don’t look like faltering, and despite the occasional excellent results of our rivals, it looks like we’ve got what it takes to get this promotion campaign over the line come the first week in May.


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