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.