Leeds United handed rare gift as Daniel Farke orders change in routine - Graham Smyth's Verdict

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Leeds United have been presented with a rare gift and Daniel Farke was not alone in recognising it at full-time of the win over Millwall.

Outside Elland Road, in the mad scramble for taxis back into town to celebrate, Irish accents mingled with Icelandic and the broadest of Yorkshire and all were saying the same thing. 'We're Leeds United, we're top of the league.' The three points gained against the Lions, three points that were comfortably won and comprehensively deserved, pushed Leeds ahead of Leicester City to first place in the Championship, for the very first time this season. What makes that remarkable is, firstly, that Leicester have sat there for five months and 26 days and secondly, that Leeds began the year 17 points back. The Foxes have played one time fewer but on Elland Road when Leeds have won to go top, games in hand be damned. It was party time. And thanks to the international break, it will remain so.

The immediate priority for Leeds, according to Farke, was to enjoy it for a few days. Let them have cake, he might well have said. No one would argue, either, because in a sport that seems so often hellbent on gutting you of joy, in a division that presents itself in the most gruelling of fashion and in a season that is so furiously disputed at the top end of the table, this kind of timing, this achievement and the space in which it can now breathe, is not a common thing.

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What Leeds have done, in reeling in the leaders and supplanting them as the table's number one side, is not to be taken for granted and had it happened at almost any other time it would have been simply swept up in the relentless schedule and what is becoming an ever-changing promotion picture. Winning 12 of 13 and going unbeaten since December in the league is worth celebrating.

ENJOYING IT - Leeds United's Georginio Rutter and Daniel James celebrating their ascent to the top of the Championship after a 2-0 win over Millwall. Pic: Jonathan GawthorpeENJOYING IT - Leeds United's Georginio Rutter and Daniel James celebrating their ascent to the top of the Championship after a 2-0 win over Millwall. Pic: Jonathan Gawthorpe
ENJOYING IT - Leeds United's Georginio Rutter and Daniel James celebrating their ascent to the top of the Championship after a 2-0 win over Millwall. Pic: Jonathan Gawthorpe

"If you don't enjoy such a moment you'll ask yourself one day why you're doing all this disciplined work," said Farke and he's dead right. If you can't allow a smile to break out at such a time as this, then when can you? So into the pubs, into their homes and onto the trains they piled, grinning, singing and following the boss man's orders.

Quite how Farke and Leeds have managed it should be a point of fascination, because he evidently holds some secrets when it comes to runs like this, the likes of which he has previously enjoyed with Norwich City. But in some ways the Millwall game did a good job of explaining it all.

Leeds have developed a habit of taking a wide variety of Championship challenges and making them look routine. A defensive solidity that has not just slowed but absolutely ended the concession of open-play goals, a midfield that lends itself to control and an attack that provides moments of result-defining quality, has been the recipe for this sensational streak. Millwall were simply the latest to realise a crushing sense of inevitability, when faced with what Leeds have to offer.

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In many ways this should always have been a win. Millwall are a much more limited side than Leeds and had they not been struggling then the Neil Harris signal would not have recently appeared in the sky above Bermondsey. But there were elements of the first half that could have knocked Leeds out of their routine and sucked them into something very different.

The hosts assumed control after a messy first five and started to play some football. Archie Gray got himself involved in one eye-catching move, Glen Kamara slid a lovely ball into Willy Gnonto and then another into Crysencio Summerville, but the score remained level.

Then came the shenanigans. Jake Cooper, all 6ft 4ins of him, grappling on the turf behind the play with 5ft 5ins Gnonto. Yellow cards came out for both and as Farke later admitted, an emotional character like Gnonto could have let this turn into something. Zian Flemming went in late on Gray to join the pair in the book and then Firpo followed him into it for a lunge as Millwall tried to break. It was fractious, the temperature was rising and Elland Road was bristling.

Before things could get out of hand, Gnonto took his anger out on the ball and the Millwall net and just like that, it was all very routine again. Rutter gave him the ball and though he still had plenty to do, he set about his task with the relish of a man who has spent time in the wilderness this season, driving at the defence, cutting inside and unleashing a visciously-struck beauty. This was the quality that makes a difference for Leeds.

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Millwall's only discernible response was physicality, dished out clumsily by Cooper. The man on a yellow risked a red by catching Rutter with a flailing arm, felling Rodon with a knee to the body in the penalty area and then tripping Rutter. Somehow only the later was deemed a foul and none of the three incidents earned what was due.

But, again, Leeds did not fall into the trap of losing their heads and making it a fight. They assumed control of the second half's early stages and should have gone further ahead when Firpo cut the ball back for Rutter bang in front and he twice failed to beat Matija Sarkic, who relied on his post for the second effort.

Millwall, after a quadruple change, finally offered something. A shot over the bar, a scramble in the area from a corner, a save for Illan Meslier to make. But in truth the imperious form of Joe Rodon and Ethan Ampadu at centre-back was going to require something special, from another ordinary-looking second tier side. And when Farke reached into his own bench, one now stacked with experience and potential starters, he found the way to take any nerves out of it. On came Daniel James, up and down the right flank he went and when Rutter picked him out perfectly after a trademark spin and dribble, the substitute did the rest. "We're Leeds United, we're top of the league," sang Elland Road, at long, long last. Only James hitting the post with a late peach threatened to change the scoreline but the result was beyond doubt and beyond Millwall.

Enjoyment is something this Leeds squad do well. Rutter is a conductor of attacking play and of post-game interaction with the fans. After Millwall, there was plenty of that. Ordinarily, however, the routine would be for a few fist pumps and then an instant turn of focus and attention to the next one. Good win lads but we go again. That's the Championship for you. But not this time. The winning feeling can linger. It's not that Leeds believe they've arrived or that the job is done, the journey will go on and ups and downs are all but guaranteed. But Leeds, having climbed a mountain step by step, one game at a time, have found themselves in a good place, so why not rest here a while? Jeopardy and the sick feeling that settles in stomachs will return soon enough, on the other side of the break. This is rarefied air. Breathe it in.