So Millwall went the way that Millwall usually does. Maybe Leeds will get the hang of the New Den one day. I don’t want to make it sound like the world’s biggest obstacle but when you play in that game you soon find out how good Millwall are at handling it.
Plenty of footballers have experienced big, hostile atmospheres but Millwall is pretty singular. It’s not so much about the noise around you but the fact that, combined with the crowd, Leeds are always confronted by a team steaming into them from the start. It’s hard to manage and it’s hard to stop. As Thomas Christiansen found out on Saturday, it’s hard to change the game when Millwall get their claws into you.
It’s an education for Leeds and Christiansen and that’s no bad thing. Maybe I’m more laid back than I should be but I’m the sort of person who can see one defeat after seven games unbeaten as no big deal. If I was Christiansen I’d go away and think about how I’d react next time a Championship club try to bully my players senseless. I’d take advantage of an opportunity to understand a different style of play.
When the season wraps up in May, Millwall’s home record will be pretty good. I can see them giving a few sides a going-over on their own patch because very few teams walk into Millwall and take the proverbial. Games like last Saturday’s are going to showcase someone like Neil Harris at his best because that was his sort of occasion as a player and Millwall are his club.
With your arse kicked, you move on, draw a line and look forward – which is exactly what Leeds did at Burnley. That was a questionable fixture for the club. Christiansen is clearly trying to do well in the League Cup without risking what you’d call his main men but how do you treat a fixture like Burnley when you’ve lost your first game of the season? Is it a nuisance and do you want it out the way, to allow you to get on with the Championship?
To some extent that’s why nine changes from Christiansen made sense. Fair enough, Christiansen’s protecting certain individuals – and let’s not pretend there isn’t a pecking order at Leeds because every club has one – but at Turf Moor he had a line-up with clear heads. Millwall, on the whole, wasn’t down to them and many of those lads won’t start against Ipswich. Despite all the chopping and changing, you’ve got a side who are hungry, fresh and motivated for the right reasons.
Speaking as someone who wasn’t always first choice, there do come times when you’re sat there thinking “yeah, I’m part of all this but what have I actually done?” You need to feel like you’re contributing and it’s nice that the drama of Burnley was the responsibility of some who haven’t made the biggest impression so far.David Prutton
Fringe players, if that’s the right phrase, need nights like Tuesday. I don’t doubt there’s a great atmosphere at Leeds and a collective spirit but some people have played a bigger part than others in getting the club to the top of the league. On a Monday morning, when you’re back at the training ground, it’s Pontus who’s helped keep another clean sheet or Lasogga who’s scored two goals on his debut, or Saiz with a dazzling display behind him.
Speaking as someone who wasn’t always first choice, there do come times when you’re sat there thinking “yeah, I’m part of all this but what have I actually done?” You need to feel like you’re contributing and it’s nice that the drama of Burnley was the responsibility of some who haven’t made the biggest impression so far.
These days management is a 25-hours-a-day, eight-days-a-week job and man-management to my mind is the biggest part of it. Arsene Wenger once said that on Saturday you’re effectively choosing 11 or 18 players and sacking the rest. Then on Monday morning you have to re-employ them all. It’s hard keeping people happy regardless of how good the mood at a club is.
What I always thought helped enormously was a manager who took an interest in everyone. When you’re on the fringes you can find that the only person you really deal with is the assistant. The boss focuses on the players who matter and his No 2 handles the rest. That leads to frustration and just to be able to speak to the manager, to see him watching your small-sided games, makes a huge difference. Don’t forget, it’s he who picks the team. It’s his opinion that counts.
The conclusion you can draw from the Burnley win is that no-one at Leeds feels isolated or ostracised. They seem to be of the mindset that Christiansen can only start 11 players and by picking his team he’s doing his job. He can’t magic places which aren’t there.
It’s hard work applying the personal touch but in my experience it pays off. You avoid cliques and you limit the frustration felt by players who aren’t playing much. You create a mood where people want to be at the training ground, rather than shoot off as soon as the day’s done. Christiansen’s getting the balance right and he’ll be glad of it when, like Tuesday, the time comes to change things around.