Elland Road was crying out for a hero and it got one in Leeds United's win over Millwall - The Verdict
At half-time on Tuesday night, with Leeds United 2-0 down to Millwall, Elland Road was crying out for a hero.
Brand new signing Jean-Kevin Augustin was sat in the stands, rubbing his hands at the quality of chances his new team-mates had created but wasted in the first 45 minutes.
But the hero they needed was on the pitch.
Patrick Bamford delivered the most timely response to criticism and questions that, at times have been fair, with two goals in a second-half blitz, Leeds out-fighting, out-running and out-playing their visitors to earn a fully-deserved 3-2 win.
What made the turnaround all the more remarkable was Bamford’s role had already been cast as the villain, with a first-half miss that summed up Leeds before the break.
Once again they suffered rough justice at the hands of officials, but as his been the trend of late, were punished for defensive frailty that was unthinkable before December.
And they still had enough chances to be ahead at the break and not staring down the barrel of a fourth consecutive defeat.
Poor defending played a big part in both of Millwall’s first- half goals and opposition teams know as well as Leeds fans that the first goal is almost always decisive when the Whites are playing. Just not on this occasion.
Leeds’ start to the game was slow and ponderous. Not what was needed or expected, after a 10-day break.
All the pre-game talk had been of recharging the batteries, for a game against a side who played against Premier League opposition at the weekend.
Yet the Whites looked flat and needed to go behind before their performance was jump- started.
Millwall needed no second invitation to snap at the heels and ankles of the home side, so uncertain, under-cooked passing put Leeds on the back foot and under heavy pressure in the first minutes.
Losing the ball close to their own goal is exactly what Marcelo Bielsa sets out to avoid and being guilty of it cost them.
The Lions had already created a scramble in the area before forcing a corner that brought the opener.
Millwall are a big side, an aggressive side so the last thing you can afford to do at set-pieces is give them an inch.
Shaun Hutchinson was given more than that at the back post and his all-too-easy header beat Kiko Casilla and stunned Elland Road.
The initial response, however, was encouraging.
Both Gjanni Alioski and Mateusz Klich came close from distance, before Bamford missed a golden chance to equalise, shooting straight into the hands of Bartosz Bialkowski from 10 yards out, on his favoured left foot.
The script, at this point, almost looked written.
And of course poor officiating has been sprinkled throughout the Leeds United story historically, not just this season.
Against Millwall earlier in the season, the Whites conceded a penalty that never was.
The hope was that, at home, they would at least get a fair shake.
Yet referee Darren England had already incorrectly awarded Leeds a corner and reversed that decision, before he watched Bialkowski make a wonder save to deny Dallas and duly award a goal-kick.
He looked in danger of going under, losing control of the game at a worryingly early stage and by the midpoint of the half, Leeds and the stadium were at boiling point.
The hosts felt Ryan Woods had run the ball out of play before it was worked into the area, where Jon Dadi Bodvarsson was sandwiched between Luke Ayling and Gjanni Alioski, a penalty the result. Jed Wallace converted it, Leeds were 2-0 down and fuming.
Yet that goal could have been almost immediately discounted, had Liam.Cooper not headed straight at Bialkowski when found, alone in the area by Hernandez’ corner.
Leeds’ relationship with that particular kind of set-piece is an unhappy one.
They look vulnerable from them and despite earning more of them than anyone else, fail to score from them.
It’s maddening, for fans and, presumably Bielsa alike.
As his players walked off at half-time, there was little suggestion of the madness to come.
And it all started with a corner, three minutes after the restart.
Pablo Hernandez swung in an inviting ball, Luke Ayling flicked it on and when Jack Harrison’s shot was saved, it had to be Bamford on hand to poke home and introduce belief to the stadium. Leeds visibly grew and Millwall, one of the Championship’s form sides, began to wilt.
Spaces opened up, Leeds took advantage and passed and ran like their lives depended on it.
It’s not too dramatic at all to suggest that their promotion hopes might just have depended on it, given their form going into the game and the growing sense of doubt around their credentials.
Chances flooded their way as they flooded forward in numbers.
Alioski, Bamford and Harrison all came close.
Just after the hour mark, Millwall’s resistance broke, the ball bouncing to Hernandez on the edge of the area and being sent back with venom, beating Białkowski to his right.
Four minutes later it was won and Bamford had Elland Road in the palm of his hand, heading in an Ayling cross and putting his hands to his ears.
What was most impressive perhaps was that Leeds didn’t put the brakes on, they went for broke and continued to dominate.
Only the woodwork stopped Costa from adding what would have been a beautiful fourth, before Klich skied a chance from bang in front of goal to kill the game.
There was, of course, a late moment of worry with some hesitancy in defence, but they survived.
Wobble? What wobble? Leeds United are back on top.
There are things to work on, there always will be, but this was one to be relished. Just enjoy it.