Hernandez 34, 83 Ayling 71
Thompson 10 Marshall 53 pen
BY RICHARD CAWLEY AT ELLAND ROAD
When these two clubs collide, it tends to be dramatic.
And Saturday did not disappoint. This was pulsating Championship football played in a cauldron of noise. If there is a louder ground than Elland Road in English football, then I’ve not been to it.
The passion in the stands was matched by two sets of players who put everything into a cracking contest which ebbed, flowed and sparked. Lovely for the neutrals but agony for the supporters – especially for Millwall when referee Darren Bond finally brought a gripping contest to a close.
It was that good, you wanted more.
But the question of whether there will be another two meetings in the 2019-20 season is still to be determined.
Leeds moved back into the second automatic promotion spot at full-time, the vast bulk of the 34,910 crowd revelling in Sheffield United’s loss to Derby County – a huge roar coming from the belly of this famous stadium as the results came up on the scoreboard.
And for Millwall, a 19th league defeat of the campaign saw them drop to 21st in the table. Reading’s
2-1 home win over Preston North End seeing the Lions’ one-club buffer to the bottom three removed.
The consolation was that Rotherham United, who have played a game more, were pumped 6-1 at Derby County. The goal difference is hugely in Millwall’s favour – effectively making it a two-point gap. And trust me, every point and every advantage – no matter how minimal – could be crucial come May 5.
This had shades of Carrow Road about it. At Norwich the Lions were 3-2 ahead and conceded twice in the final five minutes of stoppage time to walk away with nothing.
Here they were into the final 20 minutes with a slender advantage. And once again they were unable to hold on and pick up a positive result.
Twenty-five per cent of the goals conceded by Millwall have come from the 80th minute onwards.
Pablo Hernandez, excellent for the hosts, ensured there was an unwanted addition to that collection at the weekend.
When Millwall won 4-3 here last season, it was they who produced a late turnaround to stun Leeds.
This time around it was about staunching wave upon wave of attacks when United trailed 2-1.
Lions boss Neil Harris was unhappy with his side’s defending for the hosts’ second goal.
Mahlon Romeo’s attempt to play the ball off Barry Douglas for a goal-kick was just about kept in play by Jack Harrison, and both James Meredith and Jake Cooper were outjumped by Luke Ayling as he met Douglas’ delivery in.
It was a mixed bag for Romeo. The young right-back struggled to contain Harrison, particularly in the first half, but made two vital interventions after the break. And he also had a heavy hand in both Millwall goals.
Without his pace, Jed Wallace’s curved ball would have crept out of play. Instead Romeo kept it in, and his cross was headed home by Ben Thompson with just 10 minutes on the clock.
And it was Romeo’s break out of defence early in the second half in the build-up to the penalty. Wallace took over the attack and slid in Ben Marshall, Liam Cooper sweeping away his legs as he desperately tried to shut down the space.
Marshall, ineligible to play in the FA Cup defeat to Brighton, sent Bailey Peacock-Farrell the wrong way from the spot. It was his first goal since joining on loan from Norwich City. Makeshift missiles sailed down from the stands as Millwall’s players savoured regaining the lead.
Then came one of those moments that can be a turning point.
Pontus Jansson had been caught twice by a stray arm from Ben Thompson as the pair jumped for a high ball. But there was nowhere near the kind of intent that the rattled Swede showed soon after as he drove his forearm into Wallace as he raced forward.
In real-time, it felt like a red card offence. With the benefit of a single-angle replay, the centre-back could have had few arguments if he had been dismissed.
But instead Jansson was only shown yellow by Bond. It was telling though that Leeds head coach Marcelo Bielsa subbed him off soon after, at least suggesting the big defender’s head had gone.
Bond is an FA-qualified referee, but there was no license to thrill from a Millwall perspective. He also awarded United a penalty – not taking into account Ezgjan Alioski’s eagerness to hit the turf under minimal contact from Wallace. David Martin, making his third start in a row, managed to stick out a leg to save Patrick Bamford’s penalty. The former Crystal Palace loanee was one of the few ineffectual attacking players on show at the weekend.
Leeds were a handful in the wide areas, especially down the left through Harrison. More often then not they went low with deliveries in, negating the aerial advantage for Cooper and Alex Pearce.
Two of their three goals came from pinged low balls across. Hernandez was twice in the right spot to put the finishing touch on them, first of all clinically clipping home Ayling’s pass.
The winner was the story of two slides. Romeo couldn’t quite cut out Tyler Roberts’ fizzed delivery at full stretch and Hernandez just about reached it to send the home fans into raptures.
Millwall had more than played their part in a magnificent advert for the Championship. And they can take confidence from how they caused Leeds defensive problems.
There is no shame in falling just short against one of the division’s outstanding teams. But it doesn’t get a whole lot easier on Saturday against a West Bromwich Albion side who have won three on the bounce and are set for the play-offs.