Yet more play-off heartache for Leeds
Friday, 15th May 2009 20:40
Leeds suffered yet another play-off disappointment at the hands of Millwall last night, and this year we didn’t even make the final.
Simon Grayson opted to start with the same eleven who began the game at Millwall on Saturday, so Delph continued in his wide left role, while Robinson was left on the bench. The game began at a frantic pace, with crunching tackles coming in from both sides. Millwall’s Bolder received a yellow card for his challenge on Snodgrass, while Howson was lucky to avoid the same fate for a late tackle on Abdou.
At that stage it looked like being quite an open game, but it soon settled into a pattern of Leeds putting pressure on the Millwall goal, with the Lions working hard in defence to deny Beckford and Becchio any space. Though Kenny Jacket had promised to come out and attack, the ‘Wall were content to sit on their one goal lead, and rely on breakaways to pose any sort of threat to the Leeds goal.
For all our pressure, we only managed one really good opportunity during the first half, when a neat passing move ended with a superb ball from Snodgrass to send Beckford through against the keeper. But Forde got down to make an excellent save from Beckford’s fierce shot, and unfortunately Delph slipped as he got to the rebound, so Forde had no difficulty in collecting the ball.
By this time Kilkenny had limped off the field, to be replaced by Robinson. Millwall’s best efforts of the half were a couple of shots from Alexander that were way over the bar, but there was also an unnecessary collision between Casper and Neil Harris, when the offside flag had been raised long before. This left Casper seething until half-time, and he raced up to confront Harris as the players left the field, and the pair had to be separated before they got to the tunnel.
We should have had our breakthrough five minutes after the interval. First a Robinson free kick went through to Naylor at the far post, but when the skipper seemed certain to score, he took far too long to control the ball, and a defender had time to rush over and block his shot. The players were bemused by the whistle, but Mark Halsey had done well to see Sodje being pulled to the floor when the free kick came in, and we had a penalty.
Yet all Beckford could do was send a rather weak spot kick to the keeper’s right, and as Forde went the right way he was left with quite an easy save. Wasn’t Snodgrass supposed to be our designated penalty taker? But it didn’t seem to matter a couple of minutes later, as Parker made an overlapping run down the left and sent in an excellent cross for Becchio to score from close range. At this point it seemed only a matter of time before our pressure told and we went on to secure an aggregate victory.
But we lost momentum due to a couple of stoppages which disrupted the flow of the game. First the Millwall keeper was hit by a coin from the South Stand, which was sad, but rather predictable after the Millwall fans confronted Casper on Saturday. Then Whitbread needed lengthy treatment for what seemed at first to be a serious injury, but thankfully he was able to get up and carry on.
A superb long ball from Becchio gave Beckford a great opportunity as he raced through thirty yards from goal, but a defender did very well to race back and take the ball off his toe. Then in the 74th. minute Millwall stunned Elland Road by equalising with their first decent attack of the game.
Martin got to the by-line on the left and crossed beyond the far post, and when it was headed back across goal Abdou was on hand to knock it over the line. I thought that Casper was at least partly at fault with his poor positioning, as he came out too far towards Martin before the initial cross, and although he’d got back into his goal before Abdou shot, he hadn’t been able to set himself to make the save.
Grayson’s final throw of the dice was to send on Johnson and Grella as more attck-minded replacements for Parker and Howson, and Johnson was inches away with a fierce left foot drive from over 25 yards. We’d have remembered that goal for many years if it had flown in, but sadly it was not to be.
There were still six minutes of injury time to play, as a result of the time taken to treat the Whitbread injury, but not long enough for Leeds to force an equaliser. Casper came up for the last desperate corner, but his only contribution was to foul his opposite number Forde and concede a free kick that gave Millwall some valuable breathing space. Seconds later Mark Halsey blew the final whistle, and the season was all over.
On the balance of play over the two legs we deserved to at least to take the tie to extra time, but this is what can happen in the play-offs, when everything depends on the outcome of one or two games. But I’m certain we would have achieved automatic promotion if we’d had Grayson in charge for the whole season, and I can’t see us failing to win this league next season. On! On! On!
Photo: Action Images
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