Millwall midfielder Leonard: I deserved red card against Birmingham City – I want to make amends against Hull 

BY RICHARD CAWLEY
richard.cawley@slp.co.uk

Ryan Leonard is back available for Millwall tomorrow – and admits he only has himself to blame for missing Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Bristol City.

The club-record signing from Sheffield United served a one-match ban at Ashton Gate following his sending off last week against Birmingham City.

Leonard only lasted 30 minutes against the Blues. He had already been booked for a foul on Che Adams and then saw red for a lunge on Maikel Kieftenbeld.

His return is a boost for the South Londoners, who look almost certain to be without Shaun Williams after the Republic of Ireland international suffered ankle ligament damage at the weekend.

Leonard was in no mood to try and justify his actions against the Blues – the third dismissal of his career.

“It’s disappointing and it is my own fault,” he said. “I’m chomping at the bit to be back in at the weekend.

“They were both yellow cards. When I look back at it the first one is just slightly mistimed – it wasn’t malicious.

“I went in for a tackle I shouldn’t have gone in for. I went in too hard when I probably should have either let the player clear the ball or just ride the tackle. But to make the second tackle after half an hour was me being stupid. I take full responsibility.

“If some players were to back out of tackles then they get the blame the other way. I’ve never backed out of a tackle and I never would.

“You have that split-second decision to make. I did win the ball but I completely took the lad out as well. I’ll learn from it but I’ll never shirk out of tackles, it’s not what I do. You have to live and die by your decisions on the pitch. That’s my third red card in about 300 games now.

“Playing in central midfield and the type of player I am, it’s part and parcel of the game sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I could have helped the decision – it was silly from me. But it happens in football.

“I was more gutted about us being 1-0 behind and then down to 10 men – it kills the lads really. It makes it an even harder task than it already was.

“You can apologise after the game but it doesn’t really mean anything then. You have to put it right in the next match and hopefully I can do that.

“It was horrible watching [the Bristol City match] on [Sky Sports] Centre. I cheered when Willo scored and was a little bit gutted when we conceded.

“It’s the worst feeling when you miss games and you’re not injured. I want to hit the ground running.”

Leonard’s first caution came early, and he admits that usually means a slight shift in approach.

“You have to re-assess certain tackles you go in for,” he said. “You can’t go in for ones like I did where you’re not guaranteed to win the ball – especially early on it has to hold you back.

“Usually I’m very good at that. I’m quite calm in the mind during the games. For some reason I got over-excited and made that mistake. Nobody is perfect.

“I sat in the dressing room for the rest of the half and when the lads came in I said: ‘Please try and get a result’. I was devastated.

“The second half I went to watch it in the stands. The lads gave it a right go. Up until the second goal we were right in it and creating chances. If I hadn’t got sent off then we might have got a result.”

Leonard looks certain to come back into the starting 11 for tomorrow’s home game against Hull City – especially with Williams facing a spell on the sidelines.

The former Southend man feels they possess experienced personnel to cover his absence.

“Definitely – no question,” he said. “Myself, Ryan [Tunnicliffe] and Jem [Karacan] have all played enough matches and know the league well enough so that whoever comes in can more than do a job.

“This is an opportunity for other people to come in and take their chance.

“Willo will be a miss. Technically he is very good on the ball. It’s probably helped me settle into the team, playing alongside him. He is a little calmer in there, whereas I’m more of the legs.

“But it’s not a case that we have just one partnership in midfield – we’ve got four in the centre who are good enough to play.

“We’ve got good partnerships from training together, I don’t think that will be a problem.”

Millwall’s biggest injury problem is in attack with Tom Bradshaw, Lee Gregory and Tom Elliott sitting out the City contest. Aiden O’Brien and Steve Morison both came off with niggles as well.

“Every club gets that stage where they have four or five injuries and they become short in numbers,” said Leonard. “At the moment it is all our strikers getting injured by the looks of it.

“But I think over the course of a season it evens itself out with teams. It is not just us going through a bad injury spell.

“It’s not something we can use as an excuse or complain about. We’ve got good players who are waiting to come in. The positive side is they can prove what they can do.”