Sunday, 10 August 2014

Millwall; the verdict

Despite widespread change off the field at Leeds United, little changed on the pitch in South-East London as Millwall recorded their annual victory-to-nil against the West Yorkshire side. Mark Beevers swept home the opener on eight minutes before Sean Williams' late penalty secured three points for the Lions, condemning new Leeds boss Dave Hockaday to his first defeat, some would say, of many.  The former Forest Green coach was forced to leave ex-Millwall man Steve Morison through a conveniently timed calf strain and opted for a front three of Noel Hunt, Souleymane Doukara and recent new signing Nicky Ajose. Warning bells were already ringing in the eyes of the away following then, with Matt Smith benched for a still goal-less Hunt.

With an arguably incorrect team selection, Hockaday had a lot to do to improve his team's fortunes as the game wore on following a shocking first half in which the Lions ran riot. Leeds were second best and failed to string a decent move together, whilst their opposition threatened at every opportunity with Scott McDonald at the heart of everything. Despite a number of new signings, the Whites are still extremely short at the back and their vulnerability was capitalized on before the ten minute mark. Leeds reacted slowly to a well-taken short corner and Mark Beevers shrugged off Scott Wootton before sweeping the ball excellently past Silvestri. If ever a young centre half from Juventus needed to sign on the dotted line, it was right about now.

Beevers probably should have doubled the home sides lead a few minutes later but planted his header over the bar. Leeds' formation was clearly not working, with Ajose and Hunt extremely isolated out wide, which in turn isolated the unimpressive Doukara. An equaliser never looked likely were Millwall to remain as solid as they are renowned for at the Den, but it should have come following a mistake which set Luke Murphy one on one with Forde. With both Doukara and Ajose screaming for it in the box, the midfielder panicked and sliced his cross-cum-shot horribly wide. By only just missing the corner flag, that was as good as it was going to get for Leeds and they were lucky to be only one down at half time. With no Leeds defender within five yards, Alan Dunne somehow failed to hit the back of the net with a header well held by Silvestri before Ricardo Fuller thumped a volley just over the bar.

Half time, and at this stage, we're relegation fodder. There is undoubtedly not three teams worse than us in this league.

Surprisingly, not one of those under-performing, some would say all of them, were replaced at half time but Hockaday did mix up his front three, with Ajose taking a more central role. To some extent, it worked and Ajose flourished in the second half, proving a nuisance to the home sides previously untested back four. The striker's busy nature led to Leeds' best chance less than two minutes after the re-start. Under pressure from Ajose, Forde failed to handle an aimless ball forward, allowing the ex-Peterborough man to round him and cut the ball back into the path of Hunt. Reeking of a lack of confidence triggered from last year's goal-less spell, Hunt panicked before poking an effort goal-wards that was cleared off the line by Dunne. Millwall responded instantly, with Martyn Woolford's thumping strike blocked away by Silvestri, with Abdou slicing the rebound over the top.

As Leeds pushed harder for an equaliser, the game became more open and therefore as Leeds looked more likely to score, they also in turn looked more likely to concede. Matt Smith was finally introduced for Doukara and flashed a few headers wide from Sam Byram crosses before Silvestri was again on hand to deny Millwall, this time clutching an angled Scott McDonald strike.

Youngsters Lewis Cook and Dominic Poleon were introduced by Hockaday whilst Millwall threw on Jermaine Easter and new signings Magaye Gueye and Lee Gregory. Smith was starting to win aerial duels in a way that Doukara wasn't and substitute Poleon did manage to latch onto one of these, but his effort was well saved by a sprawling Forde.

However, Millwall did steady a ship that could have seen Leeds steal an equaliser and doubled their lead with four minutes to go. Leeds youngster Cook gave the ball away too close to his own box and despite Silvestri delaying Gregory's direct run, the striker was eventually tripped by Cook with the referee pointing to the spot. Contact did look minimal, but Leeds couldn't co
mplain after getting away with one, if not two valid penalty shouts earlier on. Sean Williams stepped up and converted, sealing three points for Ian Holloway's side.

The familiar feeling of disappointment at five o'clock on a Saturday afternoon is back then and the universal verdict wasn't a good one. Leeds did rally briefly in the second half but it was nowhere near good enough. The first half was as bad as last season, if not worse and despite a few excellent chances in the second half, Millwall never found themselves severely tested. It was defensive mistakes rather than Leeds' attacking play that saw such chances created. Individually, nobody shined. Italian goalkeeper Silvestri was probably the only one to emerge with some pride having made a number of good saves behind a back four bullied far too much by Ricardo Fuller. Stephen Warnock did a good job on a number of occasions of covering his wandering centre halves but found it much tougher to deal with Lee Martin one on one. Despite being a massive fan of the work Michael Tonge does, the veteran midfielder had a shocker and Luke Murphy was nowhere near his best. Austin's game varied as it usually does from the impressive to the incredibly frustrating while the front three were equally frustrated by a resilient Millwall defensive line.

 I was happier at full time than most having at least seen something to indicate we might not finish bottom with zero points. Hockaday won't be here by November though, some think October.