J Wallace 16 pen Bradshaw 45
LEEDS UNITED 1
BY RICHARD CAWLEY AT THE DEN
As Millwall’s board step back into the minefield that is a managerial appointment, the current crop of players put in the kind of performance on Saturday that their former boss would have enjoyed.The message from first-team coach Adam Barrett, in caretaker charge, was that the gritty 2-1 victory over Leeds United was for Neil Harris and David Livermore.There are many different ways to describe the events on Thursday when Harris resigned from his post, with his trusted lieutenant following suit. Shock, probably being the biggest one for many neutrals.
Millwall didn’t look like a club that are in crisis – and they aren’t. Harris didn’t seem to be a boss in trouble – you wonder how much of the extra pressure came from the high demands he put upon himself.
Last season’s scrap to survival was sapping in so many ways. And while there was a summer recharge and a squad reshuffle, criticism from some sections of the fanbase surfaced again while the club were on a seven-game winless run.
“It is not a decision that was made with haste,” said Harris in a statement issued via the League Managers’ Association. “However, I believe it to be the right decision at the right time, not only for the club, but for me and my family also.”
The seventh-longest serving boss in England’s top-four divisions had chosen the manner of his departure. Chopper won’t be short of offers – it’s just whether any others will feel such a good fit as the one where he is also the all-time record goalscorer.
We’ll never know what would have happened if Harris had decided to dig in for a while longer.
It’s all about perspective. Yes, Millwall had not won since August 17 but they had drawn four of their last six – with only two of those at home. The meagre haul of away points since the start of last season has put extra demands on banking the lions’ share in SE16. Cardiff City, Stoke City, Charlton and Wigan will be arriving before the end of November – only the first of those among the fancied clubs before the campaign began.
A win instantly changes the mood, especially one over Leeds.
Harris sent congratulatory text messages to the players just moments after they inflicted more capital punishment on Leeds, who have lost 11 and drawn five of their last 17 league matches in London.
The recent head to head record at Millwall makes for similarly grim reading – with the hosts winning nine and drawing one of the last 11 played.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side were heavy favourites with the bookies, exactly like at Charlton the weekend before, but once again left empty-handed.
Barrett – supported by U23 coaches Kevin Nugent and Paul Robinson on matchday – chalked up his first win as a manager. Bielsa, a veteran of 630 games which has also taken in spells with Argentina, Chile and Marseille, suffered defeat number 170.
Barrett made two selection changes with Ben Thompson starting in the number 10 role that seems to bring out the best in him with Shane Ferguson recalled after suspension. Matt Smith and Connor Mahoney, whose form has nosedived after a bright start, were benched.
A fired up Millwall started fast. Ezgjan Alioski did not like a fair but crunching challenge from Ryan Leonard. Kiko Casilla saved unconvincingly with his legs from Mahlon Romeo within the opening 90 seconds.
The first goal was a talking point. It would have been interesting to see how VAR – not used in the Championship – would have ruled. Tom Bradshaw went down in the box and referee James Linington ruled that Gaetano Berardi had made minimal contact. The Swiss centre-back was shown an eighth red card of his Leeds career. Jed Wallace produced an impeccable penalty into the top left corner.
Bradshaw was excellent. Not only did he make it 2-0 with a delightful first time finish on Ferguson’s cross, he was able to chase balls over the top. He did exactly that, time and time again.
Alioski cut the deficit 20 seconds into the second half as Leeds had fresh hope. They also had a lot of the ball, their dominance of possession making it feel like they had the extra man.
But, again just like at The Valley, they didn’t force the goalkeeper into saves.
Millwall defended dutifully but were poor with their passing in the second period. Jake Cooper strode out of defence but then just hammered an overhit pass through the middle; Shaun Hutchinson floated a free-kick straight to Casilla; Jed Wallace could be seen berating himself for overpowering a cross to Bradshaw after Jon Dadi Bodvarsson had blocked a Stuart Dallas clearance; Bodvarsson produced a terrible attempt after Jayson Molumby won the ball on the edge of the Leeds box.
It is Millwall’s quality on the ball in the final third which is in need of most work.
So who follows Harris into the Den hotseat?
Roy Keane led the betting over the weekend, but seems hugely unlikely to be in contention. Chris Hughton will wait for one of the Championship big hitters to make a change.
If you want a Millwall connection then there is Tim Cahill, Kevin Muscat and Mick McCarthy – but while the first of those would likely jump at the opportunity, it is a risk.
Gary Rowett could be a solid option. Birmingham were seventh in the Championship when he was sacked following a takeover in December 2016. His Derby side lost to eventual play-off winners Fulham in May 2018.
Millwall (4-2-3-1): Bialkowski 7, Romeo 8, Hutchinson 7, Cooper 7, M Wallace 7, Leonard 7 (Williams 28, 7), Molumby 7, Ferguson 7, Thompson 7 (Bodvarsson 80), Bradshaw 8. Not used: Sandford, Pearce, O’Brien, Mahoney, Smith.