All in a regular afternoon with Leeds United eh.
The lunch-time kick off at Elland Road promised so much, if nothing else there was sure to be hefty tackles and plenty of banter between the fans. With the small contingent of travelling fans tucked away in the cheesewedge, the home fans – surprisingly, turned out in good numbers. Over 25,000 for a category A game is pretty impressive and the result matched that.
The starting line up remained from Nottingham Forest, but on the bench, Davide Somma returning from suspension. Richard Naylor in particular keeping his place at centre half must somewhat amusing for Alex Bruce, if not inherently irritating.
It seems of late Leeds are slow starters; it takes us a while to get into our stride and it wasn’t long before three of our back four (Paul Connolly doesn’t get much of a mention in this but he did the job) showed why. A lacklustre attempt at a clearance by the less-than-convincing Fede Bessone was eaten up by Steve Morison who lobbed the ball high into the box; Kasper Schmeichel left the Naylor to deal with it and unsurprisingly, the Leeds skipper came off second best. Kevin Lisbie cruised ahead of Naylor and as the latter tried to grab hold of him, he managed to head the ball past a helpless Schmeichel. Elland Road fell silent and the recriminations began.
Typically frustrating, a goal from nothing. Worse actually, a goal conceded of our own making. I said somewhere at the beginning of the season I’ll try not to judge Bessone too harshly but the fact that he managed to make the same mistake twice (in amongst many others) was immensely frustrating. He was just lucky second time round that Collins didn’t step up to do the honours.
Anyway. The goal was against the run of play and Leeds got straight back at Millwall, dominant in possession as chance after chance came and went. Hitting the post three times, having one hacked off the line and a couple decent saves from David Forde was a sign of things to come, eventually. A goal was coming and it finally came as the increasingly popular Lloyd Sam swept the ball home from the edge of the box.
Parity. Leeds continued to get forward and create chances but too many through balls went astray, the hit-and-miss Neil Kilkenny guilty of overdoing it while Bradley Johnson.. Well. At Forest most of his crosses ended up in the Trent End and his passing and touch today was equally as poor. His impressive heading capabilities may well be keeping him in the side and he can probably count himself lucky to have completed 90mins.
Half time came and Millwall were probably relieved. It stopped our momentum and gave Kenny Jackett a chance to stick a rocket up his own troops. Either the home dressing room needed a new clock or Jackett was overdoing the hair-dryer treatment which resulted in the Leeds team emerging much earlier than the away side. Mind games perhaps..
The second half got under way and Millwall seemed to have a new lease of life; our shaky back line looked prone to conceding again and as the half dragged on it felt as though the away side were gaining the upper hand. And then there was Forde’s mistake which gifted Leeds a corner as he failed to pick up an easy through ball. We smiled but you can’t help but feel for a keeper on such occasions.
It felt as though the tide had turned, no matter how many chances came – Collins, Becchio and Sam all could’ve put Leeds ahead; I started to wonder whether we would make the breakthrough. Enter Somma. After a fruitful season at Lincoln, the South African strikers career at Leeds was delayed but he was worth waiting for.
With Luciano Becchio in his usual workman-like role, fighting for headers and covering deeper, Somma’s introduction provide the pacey outlet Leeds have missed with the departed Jermaine Beckford and suspended Max Gradel. He replaced the rather hapless Bessone as the equally poor Johnson reverted to left back. Instant hero time for the new-boy Somma.
Watt found Somma with a neat pass across the box for the simplest finish and the relief around Elland Road was palpable. It wasn’t an open and shut case though as Millwall attacked again and only a ridiculously exuberant reflex save from Schmeichel kept Leeds ahead.
There was still time for another sub as the ever popular Andy Hughes (that was just for you, Adz!) came on for the excellent Lloyd Sam and subsequently got skinned. But we’ll say no more on that..
There was still time though as Leeds cleared their lines; the impressive Jonny Howson drove forward and spotted Somma’s left wing run and picked him out with a monster pass – we’re talking Old Trafford-esque, except Somma’s touch was better than Becks’.. Somma, faced with a defender, feinted one way and belted the ball past Forde to wrap up the win well into injury time.
I’m always concentrating on the negatives after matches, but sometimes they’re too big to ignore. Today though, was an utterly dominant display and once Patrick Kisnorbo returns at the back, we’ll be looking a decent Championship outfit -depending on who he partners.
Having battered Hull and Brizzle City before coming to Elland Road, Millwall offered little; they seemed to take the same ‘leave a massive gap in the centre of midfield’ tactic which Leeds have often started with; they were a threat up front but that owed partly to the shakiness and poor position of Naylor and at times, Collins. The departure of Lisbie was surprising as he was offering Leeds’ back two plenty to think about. It’s not a criticism but Millwall seem to have a League One mentality about them, if you’ll excuse the loose terminology; a dogged dig in, take the few chances you can regardless of it being pretty or not. I think they’ll survive this season though.
Up front though it’s a completely different prospect. The likes of Sam and Sanchez Watt are adding a touch of class to the side, their skills today were a joy to watch and often quite outrageous. With Gradel’s impending return and Robert Snodgrass not far behind him, the front line is actually looking a lot more rosy than first thought. A striker we cried out for and Somma we (belatedly) got, hopefully he can continue in the side and grab plenty of goals but the selection headache Simon Grayson will have with the attack is no doubt a pleasing one. For Mike Grella though, it seems his chances are going to be extremely limited this season barring injuries. It seems a loan is on the cards.
In midfield it is a different issue; Kilkenny was more hit-than-miss with his passes today, some were well off but some were pinpoint but while Jonny Howson, after a slow start, began to dominate in the centre. His passing and vision were something Johnson could well learn from if he survives in the team much longer. With Howson and Kilkenny taking control in the centre, Millwall were out of the game.
The 4-3-3 system may well change with Somma available and Gradel returning so how Grayson juggles things will be interesting. What is certain is that Becchio will lead the line. He must need days to recover, the amount of work he puts in is exhausting to watch, never mind do.
What is certain is that things are going in the right direction; there’s a dogged determination about the side, touched with class and a desire to play football which is easy on the eye. It’s not just show-boating. Well..
And lastly, it’s nice to be able to say the referee had a very good game. His assistant on the far side as Leeds attacked the South stand in the first half saved us many times with the offside flag.
In a nutshell – “We all faarkin’ love Leeds!”