Rob Atkinson column: Millwall away will be the acid test of Leeds United’s great start

Leeds United's Mateusz Klich. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe
Leeds United's Mateusz Klich. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe
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Leeds United’s season so far seems uncannily similar to the way last season started; a flurry of victories, shooting the Mighty Whites to the top of the Championship, accompanied by waves of optimism from the supporters, grudging praise from the national media, glaring over-exposure on live TV and a growing expectation that “finally - this is the year”.

And this time, it really might be our year - when we ultimately end our long exile from the top flight. If this is to be United’s annus mirabilis though, it won’t be down to the similarities to last time around – it’ll be because of the vital differences that, even now, are apparent to knowledgeable Leeds fans.

For all the wishful thinking out there in the wider Leeds-hating world, with every other Twitter account pointing out that we set off like a rocket last season and then fell away, there’s still a feeling that this season is different, that this time, our optimism is justified.

Firstly, we’ve secured Marcelo Bielsa, a world-class coach whose ideas and philosophy have been eagerly bought into by the playing staff. Then, there’s the remarkable fact that the squad isn’t really that different to the one that underperformed so badly last season, after that misleading early blitz. Most changes have been fringe players moving out, lots of them.

There have been relatively few incomings, with only Barry Douglas, a bargain buy from last year’s runaway champions Wolves, pinning down a regular place.

The other real “addition” is the returning Mateusz Klich, a Polish midfielder who failed to impress last season, but who has found a new lease of life under Bielsa with a series of revelatory performances and crucial goals.

Of course, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, as ever, and we’ve really only had the tiniest, delicious taste so far. Next up, after the international break now upon us, Leeds are due to face Millwall away.

This was a fixture that occurred around the same time last term, and proved to be a case of Leeds biting off more than they could chew, as they produced a toothless performance and ended up devoured by the Lions.

It was only 1-0 to the home team, but our heroes were thrashed out of sight on the day and, it’s fair to say, never really recovered their early spark.

Millwall away, then, presents itself as the acid test of United’s early promise, and we’ll have to hope that they’re up for it this time – because the Lions always are. I’m not too popular with Millwall’s online community, being included as the final entry of a recent Lions fan-written “A-Z of Leeds United” as Zealot Rob, always writing nasty things about the guys and gals who frequent the New Den in my blog “Life, Leeds United, the Universe and Everything”.

It’s not true, of course, though I will admit to having been critical on occasion, albeit with ample justification.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of that, it certainly makes any match between our two clubs a lively time for me, as representatives of the Millwall faithful make contact to amplify their feelings.

That being the case, life would be much easier for me personally if Leeds do well next Saturday, perhaps laying the ghost of last season’s calamity by winning in the Lions’ Den. Whenever Leeds beat Millwall, their fans go nice and quiet, which is bliss for this United devotee.

Whatever the result, I’ll be watching closely, and I’m really hoping for another feast of Bielsaball and perhaps another sumptuous Klich strike from outside the box, just to put the icing on a great away win. Marching On Together.

Rob Atkinson is a lifelong LUFC fan. He writes a column for the Yorkshire Evening Post every fortnight.