By Andrew Butterwick
Match day dawned with bright sunshine and a chill in the air. Millwall are the latest team to travel to LS11 hoping to add to this season's trials and tribulations at Leeds United. Having won only once in 15 trips away from South Bermondsey this season and carrying the joint leakiest defence in the league at 62 goals hopes of a rare 3 points haul for Leeds were at least luke warm amongst the tide of fans making their way to Elland Road. As ever the off the field events were high on the pre match discussion agenda for the Happy Chocker, brother Chris and the Quiet One as we cruised along the M62 towards the Theatre of the never ending takeover. Cellino's conviction in an Italian court this week for tax evasion should, according to the FL's rules, ensure he fails the Football League's "fit and proper" test. The letter sent by GFH/David Haigh to the Football League demanding an early decision on the case will have done nothing other than piss off the committee who are judging the matter. Ironically one of the committee's members represents today's visitors Millwall. The perpetual state of confusion, mismanagement and chaos looks set to continue at Leeds United for the near future me thinks.
One topic did manage to interrupt the talk of the takeover debacle. The return to Elland Road of a certain Mr V. Jones. Oh how we yearn for a midfield presence such as Vinnie Jones especially against Millwall. Misty eyed memories of goals, crunching tackles and that Leeds salute flooded back to fans of a certain era. Brian McD stuck with the same eleven that did so well at Burnley last week. 23,000 fans settled down for what was a vital game for both teams but for very different reasons.
The Lions came out roaring against a nervy and disjointed Leeds team. They bossed the first 15 minutes with a positive approach inspired by their manager Ian Holloway. Early corners heaped pressure on the home team as the visitors midfield imposed an iron grip on the game. Butland made an impressive save to tip a Pearce header round the post as Millwall sensed they could add to their surprise victory at Derby by once again upsetting the residents of LS11. Then just as I was thinking this was going to be another long and excruciating afternoon at the famous old stadium we got a bit of luck. Leeds attacked down the left and won a throw in. Connor Wickham launched a long throw towards Matt Smith who flicked it hopefully goalwards and over the floundering Forde into the Millwall goal. 1.0 Leeds. It was that much of a surprise I didn't even jump out of my seat!
Millwall still looked a threat though without really testing Butland in the Leeds goal. The quality of football on the pitch matched the awful weather as torrential rain sent the East stand fans scuttling to the back in search of shelter. Typical of the play was a shot by Wickham after Mowatt had created him space he ballooned the ball high into the South Stand. The game inched to half time with Millwall still having the better of the scrappy play. Then a tenacious tackle from Tom Lees ricocheted the ball up field where Capt Ross reacted first to gratefully run the ball into the box before sliding the ball between Forde's legs and into the goal from a ridiculously tight angle. This time I was out of my seat as the league's top scorer celebrated yet another goal in his prolific season. "How the f*** Danny Ings won player of the year in front of Ross is beyond me" HC commented pointing out that Ross Mac's goals have come playing in a bang average team whereas Ings has had the luxury of a decent team round him. Good point well made I thought. 2.0 Leeds.
Leeds so nearly made it 3 when Tom Lees of all people found himself free in the box but his shot was blocked and bounced away for a corner. Half time came with Leeds still leading 2.0. The urinal philosophers were quite succinct in their assessment of the half. "We're the better of 2 rubbish teams" one fan thought. "We might not deserve it but 2.0 is 2.0 and that'll do me" said one thankful mighty whites fan. I scuttled back to my seat to see Hollywood star and Elland Road cult hero, Vinnie Jones, milk his rapturous reception in front of the kop inevitably culminating in him leading a couple of choruses of Marching on Together. Delicious!
The second half continued pretty much as the first half finished with lots of endeavour and virtually no finesse. Beevers tested Butland with a low shot before Butland then grabbed the ball in the 6 yard box after a mad scramble. Smith flicked a header wide after good work by Mowatt in front of the kop but the longer the game went the more Millwall looked like scoring as Leeds seemed incapable of retaining any possession. On the hour Holloway brought on the giant Maierhofer together with Jackson and DJ Campbell to try and get the goal that would give the Lions a chance of a draw. Leeds did create a couple of chances to kill the game off first Murphy trying an ambitious volley before Ross Mac shot wide after finding space down the inside right channel. That nattering feeling that we needed a 3rd goal was eating away at my insides as Millwall continued to push forward looking for a goal................and on 72 minutes my worst fears were realised as Campbell hit a stunning volley from a lay off from Maierhofer to reduce Leeds' lead. 2.1 Leeds and the nerves were now jangling like a hyperactive tambourine.
Austin conceded a free kick on the edge of the box. Garvin lined up for a shot that I was sure would end up in the Leeds net but thankfully floated high and wide. As the game entered the final ten minutes the Leeds defence resembled a scene from the Alamo as Millwall launched attack after attack into the heart of the home defence. Tonge and Hunt replaced Mowatt and Wickham. HC's had a puzzled look as he tried to figure out the logic of that move. Desperate blocks and tackles were now the order of the day as Leeds hung on for dear life. 5 minutes added time seemed like an eternity before Leeds caught Millwall on the break. Ross Mac crossed for Smith who's shot cannoned away for a corner. The final action of the match saw Ross Mac then Tonge so nearly get a 3rd for Leeds as Forde panicked in the away goal. Thankfully the ref's whistle blew and Leeds scraped home with a very welcome 3 points.
Nobody was under any illusions as the fans streamed out down a bitterly cold Elland Road. Lady Luck had for once shone on Leeds today as Millwall will count themselves unfortunate not to have returned to South Bermondsey with at least a point. Lees, Pearce, Wickham had reasonable games with Mowatt playing better than of late. This was an instantly forgettable and frustrating game highlighted by the deafening silence in the car on the way home. I wonder what Vinnie made of it all?
Bournemouth away on Tuesday night a game I will miss due to work commitments. Difficult to see anything other than another struggle for Leeds though. This season can't end soon enough for many fans.........oh and hopefully the off the field farce finally gets resolved. I'm not holding my breath though. Roll on the mighty Donny next week!