SATURDAY is Leeds United’s first opportunity to break one of their rivals for a play-off position.
Win at the Den and, as far as I’m concerned, Millwall are out of the running.
If only life was that straightforward! As we all know, United’s record at Millwall is not good. In fact, it’s distinctly worse than not good. Leeds have lost on their last three appearances there and, to be fair, they deserved little more than that.
They’re due a win, no doubt at all, and achieving it on Saturday will depend on producing a performance which is absolutely on the money.
Millwall always approach these matches in the same way – by putting bodies on the line and fighting for every ball.
That’s not to say that they don’t have footballers who can play or lads who can create, but their first port of call is to win the battle. It’s crucial to a point that Leeds play their own game, but they can’t presume to disregard Millwall’s tactics. They’d be well advised to prepare for a scrap.
It’s crucial at a place like the Den that you stick together and show good discipline. More than anything, it’s vital that you don’t get frustrated if the match seems to be going nowhere. There’ll be times when the game is fraught, disjointed and messy. There’ll be times when Millwall’s tails are up.
The trick is to ride those periods and wait for a chance to cut loose. The fact that this Leeds squad are so good at scoring goals is a huge advantage because you rarely get a bucketload of chances at the Den.
The first job for Leeds is to quieten the crowd. It’s a bit of a cliche but, away to Millwall, doing so is essential.
Anyone who’s followed Leeds there in the past few seasons will know how difficult a venue it is to play at when Millwall’s supporters get going. They’re a volatile bunch and the home players feed on the atmosphere they create.
In a way, it’s a bit like Elland Road – when the team get up a head of steam with the crowd behind them, they’re almost impossible to hold down.
For that reason, Leeds cannot afford to give them any encouragement. Simon Grayson will be looking for a strong, steady start and a good platform to build on.
I’ve said before that I expect United’s home matches to earn them a place in the play-offs. If automatic promotion is to be a possibility, they also need some big results away from Elland Road.
On a side note, this week is the 11th anniversary of the tragic death of two Leeds United supporters, Kevin Speight and Christopher Loftus, in Istanbul. I sincerely hope that tomorrow’s game can pass off without any unsavoury reference to that terrible incident – but my hopes aren’t high.
Football rivalry is one thing but taunts about that night go way beyond the boundaries of decency and banter.