Leeds United line-up
Silvestri (GK); Defence: C Taylor (LB), Bamba (DC), Bellusci (DC), Wooton (RB); Midfield: Austin (DM), Murphy (DM), Mowatt (LM), Cook (CM), Byram (RM); Attack: Morison (ST);
Substitutes: S Taylor, Berardi, Sloth, Adryan, Sharp, Antenucci, Çani
Attendance: 24,000 (234 Millwall)
Leeds made a few tweaks for this game against fierce rivals Millwall; the main one being an enforced change with the injured Tommaso Bianchi being replaced by the fit again Rodoloph Austin in the midfield engine room. Other changes saw head coach Neil Redfearn rearrange the bench and put out an attack-oriented substitute line-up. Returning to the bench amidst much Facebook clamour and cheering was Leeds’ Brazilian prodigy Adryan who hasn’t been seen since the FA Cup 3rd round defeat by Sunderland.
Leeds picked up against Millwall where they left off against Reading, taking the game to their opponents. Again, Leeds were aggressive in the tackle, completing 11 tackles in the opening half with central defensive pair Giuseppe Bellusci and Sol Bamba completing 4 out of 5 tackles they’d attempted. The centre of defence has been a strength that has served Leeds well this year (2015, since January), allowing Leeds to have a solid base from which to operate. Leeds were actually quite active as a team in the first half, pushing and probing at Millwall driven on by the impressive Lewis Cook and the resurgent Luke Murphy and definitely were having the more clear-cut chances. Leeds’ first chance came on 11 minutes when an Alex Mowatt shot fizzed inches wide after good build-up play involving Giuseppe Bellusci and Steve Morison. Cook was making surging runs that worried Millwall and the chances continued to spring up for Leeds.
On 19 minutes a Charlie Taylor run and pass was collected by Luke Murphy who lofted the ball to meet Sam Byram’s run but David Forde in the Millwall goal came out to claim. The first half had these ‘action moments’ that were interspersed with lulls in the action and possession-happy football. The game picked up again in the last 15 minutes of the first half as Leeds weathered a quasi-fightback from Millwall and imposed themselves more on the game. First, on 35 minutes, a Luke Murphy run was halted by a lazy foul from Millwall’s Austrian striker Stefan Maierhofer who earned a yellow card. Whilst this free kick came to nothing, the one that followed a foul on Luke Murphy did. Alex Mowatt stood over it, took a short run up and hit it with his left boot. Whilst it did take a deflection off the wall, it still ended up nestled in the top corner of David Forde’s goal to give Leeds a deserved 1-0 lead.
The goal sparked a flurry of Leeds attacks and half-chances for Leeds as Millwall stood off shell-shocked. Rodolph Austin was the first to almost profit when his acrobatic volley after good build up from Mowatt, Cook and Morison allowed him the clear-cut shot at goal. A minute later, on 41 minutes, Steve Morison had a shot blocked and as Leeds continued to press, Bellusci’s ball in and subsequent header from Austin ended up with the Millwall defence clearing the danger.
Half time score: Leeds United 1 – Millwall FC 0
Second halves are rarely as exciting as first halves are where Leeds have been concerned this season; well they were when everyman and his dog could have scored past us in the dark days of 2014. However, Leeds did show in flashes some of the enterprise they displayed in the opening 45 minutes of action. In fact, they were the first to profit in the 51st minute when a quick break and subsequent Luke Murphy ball in ended with a Steve Morison header flashing just wide of the upright. The passing from both teams was more neat and tidy than neat and incisive and the game plodded on at a more-than-usual pedestrian pace.
Millwall weren’t out of the game and a Bellusci mistake was pounced on by Lee Gregory who fed the ball to Martin Woodford, his eventual shot going over Marco Silvestri’s goal. The push-pull of tug-o-war football was leading to mistakes creeping into both sides’ games and served as a reminder that the game wasn’t over as a contest. Leeds made their only substitution of the game in the 69th minute when coach Redfearn took off Rodolph Austin and brought on the club’s leading scorer in Mirco Antenucci. Five minutes later, Antenucci was involved in the build up to yet another Leeds chance. Lewis fed Antenucci who fed the ball to Alex Mowatt; Mowatt’s ball being passed back to Antenucci and then on to Byram whose shot ended over the bar. Further chances came Leeds’ way as the game trickled to an end but they weren’t able to add to their single goal and the game ended as the first half had.
Full time: Leeds United 1 – Millwall FC 0
Game focus – The comparison of both midfield units
The game of football is often won and lost in the midfield, the ‘engine-room’ of the team. In the case of today’s game, Leeds’ engine was ticking and purring whilst Millwall’s was spluttering and coughing. Leeds United’s midfield (272 touches) saw much more of the ball (42% more) than their Millwall counterparts (191 touches). The five players had a total of 272 touches with Murphy having 70 touches (26%), Byram 55 touches (20%), Austin 30 touches (11%), Cook 54 touches (20%) and Mowatt 63 touches (23%). Just looking at the ‘activity heatmap’ gives you an indication of the dominance of the Leeds midfield unit, as indicated by the solid swathe of green across the whole of the midfield area in Millwall’s half of the field showing where they were the most active. In contrast, the Millwall midfield 5 are disjointed and there seems to be no overall coherency or areas of linked dominance.
Player focus: Sol Bamba
Sol Bamba has been an immense influence in the centre of the Leeds defence in the four games he has played since signing on an initial half-season loan from Palermo. In this game he had the following returns: 2 successful tackles form 2 attempts (100% tackle success), 3 pass interceptions, 9 defensive clearances, 2 defensive blocks and 4 headed duels won (100% success rate). If he carries on putting up successive game returns like this then I can’t see any way that Leeds don’t take up the option of purchasing him at the end of his loan.
Next game: Middlesbrough vs. Leeds United – Saturday 21st February 2015
In-text stats from WhoScored.com data