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Leeds United Need to Reproduce Tuesday Night’s Grit Down at Millwall – by Rob Atkinson

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Not a happy hunting ground – Millwall’s New Den

It was a different sort of game at Elland Road last Tuesday evening, with Leeds United‘s opponents, for once in a very long while, actually shading possession over the ninety-four minutes. All credit to West Bromwich Albion for that notable feat, though it would probably have been cold comfort for the Baggies as they made their weary way home pointless, having sustained a 0-1 defeat for their first reverse of the season. Leeds, on the other hand, will take plenty of encouragement from getting the job done despite a rare failure to dominate. It was a gritty display by United, necessarily more so the longer the game went on, with Albion trying their hardest to salvage something. That they were kept out, and made to suffer a season’s first defeat, reflects immense credit upon Leeds, who’d had to make do without injured skipper Liam Cooper for the last hour of a fierce contest.

A look beyond the possession statistic is instructive, for all the post match talk of United being dominated. In reality, it wasn’t quite like that, with the Whites carving out more chances than Albion, with more on target as well. Leeds’ chances were also more clear-cut, with Sam Johnstone in the Baggies goal being far busier than Kiko Casilla at the other end. Overall, United did what was needed, coming back from a disappointing display in London, for the second season on the trot, to beat West Brom and get back on track.

Now, it’s time for another daunting away appointment this weekend, with a trip to Millwall – never an easy task for Leeds. There’s something about the place which seems to sap United’s morale; doubtless it’s because the locals do not exactly hold our heroes in high esteem, a fact they make vociferously clear at every possible opportunity. Millwall’s team and fans just love to get stuck into what they clearly see and resent as the division’s aristocrats. They style themselves “the biggest small club in the world” down there, and revel in their repeated refrain of “No one likes us, we don’t care”.

That particular sentiment will strike a chord with many a Leeds United fan, but for us it’s repeated plaintively, with a sense of grievance. At Millwall, it’s a battle cry, and there’s no other club that has the Lions sharpening their claws with quite the same bloodthirsty zest as they do for our lads – this is Millwall’s cup final, make no mistake. 

The situation is further complicated by the fact that Millwall’s manager, local legend Neil Harris, parted company with the club on Thursday. The effect of this is hard to predict; Harris epitomised Millwall’s chip on the shoulder approach to eagerly-anticipated games like their clash with Leeds. But that approach is unlikely to be ameliorated by the departure of Harris; rather, it’s in the fabric of the club, so it’s highly unlikely that Leeds will find their path smoothed by a managerial upheaval, even though the timing might be seen as unhelpful to Millwall, only two days before United roll into town.

In summary, the grittiness of Leeds United’s showing against their peers in West Brom will certainly need to be reproduced for the looming clash with notional inferiors Millwall. Any failure to do just that could easily be punished; that’s happened before against opponents United take lightly at their peril.

Last season, Leeds escaped The New Den with a precious point earned by Jack Harrison‘s late equaliser – and even then, they had to weather a late storm from the nettled Lions. I’d be a lot more confident against many other opponents – as it is, I’d love a win but wouldn’t be too upset with another draw.

White Saturday Follows Black Friday as Leeds Slam the Rams – by Rob Atkinson

Antenucci at the double: United's bearded wonder celebrates

Antenucci at the double: United’s bearded wonder celebrates

Leeds United 2, Derby County 0

There had been a definite feeling of optimism – the kind of optimism where you’re not really sure what it’s based on – ahead of this clash between Leeds United and league leaders Derby County. Whether it was a sort of pre-Yuletide glass-half-full ebullience, or merely good old Yorkshire blinkered pig-headedness, the vibe in the ether had been remarkably positive. There were a lot of “funny feelings” that Leeds could – would – win. And sure enough, by the final whistle, the joke was very much on the Rams, our one-time rabbits but more recently an irritating nemesis. Leeds had won decisively, 2-0, with current pin-up boy Mirco Antenucci scoring either side of half time to give us our first success over the sheep since 2005.

The game started with the visitors as the more measured side, as befitting their lofty status. Derby had that ever so slightly arrogant air about them, redolent of aristocrats pitched against peasants in a village cricket match. Their early play suggested a blithe expectation of victory – but they failed to capitalise on this brief superiority and, when the young midfield guns of Leeds started to blaze in and around “Schteve” McClaren’s bewildered officer class, the writing was very much on the wall. In the end, for all their occasionally threatening encroachment into the United defensive third, Derby were sunk without a trace and subsided with barely a whimper, never mind any truly threatening signs of defiance. No shots on target over the whole piece is a damning indictment of supposed promotion favourites and ultimately the White tide simply swept poor County away.

Antenucci the Adored

Antenucci the Adored

Antenucci’s two goals were deft finishes of contrasting types, one tucked neatly away from a quality low cross from Mowatt, the other a precise finish after the luxury of a touch on the ball to set up the strike, following more good work, firstly from Mowatt. He prepared the way for a fine pass from Warnock to the Bearded Wonder, who languidly scored the clincher. Two goals and a clean sheet might appear to have been ample reward for Redders’ improving unit but, in truth, United could and should have had more. Still, after a nine year famine against these opponents, enough was as good as a feast, with subsequent near-misses providing the lightest of desserts for discerning Leeds palates.

We’re often told that we’re “not famous any more”; we’ve even been known to throatily echo that sentiment as the Elland Road Kop indulges in a little post-modern irony. But defeat at the hands of Leeds really does hurt Derby; in a rivalry going back even before the feuding of Hunter and Lee, we’ve always been a desperately desirable scalp for the ovine followers of the Rams – right up there with Forest in that respect. So a long overdue victory against them is all the sweeter for the pain etched so deeply across County faces, souls, and indeed the entire #DCFC Twitter feed. Schadenfreude has a flavour all of its own and, like revenge, is a dish best served cold. It’s been cooling away nicely for nine years and it tasted just right yesterday.

So what now for Leeds? As the Redfearn touch continues to mould the youth, talent, Latin flair, vigour and experience of this squad into an ever more cohesive unit, there are grounds for guarded optimism. We’re not there yet, not by a long chalk. There are still worrying deficiencies, vulnerabilities that might have been exploited by a team with more stomach for battle than this somewhat effete Derby side. But the Leeds work in progress is starting to show signs that progress is indeed being made. Those signs were there also in rather unlucky defeat at Blackburn last week; seven days on, they were stronger and still more promising. One pundit in the Leeds blogosphere dared to speak the word relegation yesterday morning; he may now conclude that he was being needlessly, almost treacherously, pessimistic. Defeats are hard enough to swallow, surely there’s no call for defeatist talk.

Make no mistake, Leeds beat a fine side yesterday and beat them well. Derby will play worse and win in the face of less gutsily determined opposition. Leeds for their part will have to strive to maintain at least the standards they set on Saturday afternoon; in fact, they will need to raise the bar still further if any real upward momentum is to be generated. If a young side of such rich potential can do this, then they will expect to win more than they’ll lose – a verdict that the defeated Mr McClaren might well now be prepared to endorse.