Stephen Warnock fired home his first goal for Leeds United from the penalty spot to earn the club a vital 1-0 win over Millwall.
The left-back took responsibility for the 71st-minute spot-kick after Ross McCormack had missed an earlier penalty, and his clinical effort kept United firmly in the running for a play-off position.
The chances which went begging in an eventful first half suggested that something would give eventually but both sides took time to get going after the interval.
Millwall goalkeeper David Forde snuffed out the danger created by McCormack’s flick towards David Norris with a sliding save but the intensity of the game dropped in the lead up to the hour mark.
Sam Byram’s intervention stopped John Marquis burying a pass over the top on 58 minutes while most of the pressure came from Leeds and Michael Tonge’s worthwhile effort from 20 yards swung away from goal six minutes later.
Forde then dived to beat away another strike from Tonge as United slowly turned the screw but Millwall responded by throwing on Andy Keogh and Nathan Tyson and the two substitutes almost combined to produce the opening goal seconds later.
But Leeds were thrown a lifeline when Dunne brought down Ross McCormack inside the box on 71 minutes and Warnock’s fierce finish gave Forde no chance.
Luke Varney had a chance to put the game beyond Millwall but drove a shot on the counter-attack against Forde’s body but Sam Byram was fortunate to go unpunished when Dunne’s later header hit his arm inside the box.
“I didn’t want Ross to take the second penalty and put extra pressure on himself after missing the first,” boss Neil Warnock said.
“I was going to send El-Hadji Diouf on to take it but Stephen wanted to take it straightaway and he told me he’d taken them before.”
Millwall manager Kenny Jackett had no complaints over the two penalty awards to Leeds but claimed the Lions should have had a spot-kick of their own.
He said: “My first impressions are that we couldn’t complain about either of Leeds’ penalties but I felt we had a clear-cut penalty when Danny Shittu headed the ball down, Sam Byram had his hand by the side of his body and clearly handled it as the ball was going through to my centre-forward, so I thought the referee got that call wrong.
“David Forde made a good save from the first penalty and he is in top form at present. We had big chances but Paddy Kenny pulled off two very good saves for them and Shane Lowry hooked one over from about seven yards, so we were unfortunate to come away with nothing.”
Leeds remain in the play-off hunt as a result of their eighth win in nine home league games, but now face a tricky week on the road that could prove crucial.
Warnock added: “It was all about getting three points. It was a must-win before going away to Leicester and Crystal Palace and we deserved it, though we could have made it easier for ourselves.”
Castleford-born Martyn Woolford twice went near for Millwall before setting up James Henry whose close-in shot smacked against the near post in the 13th minute.
McCormack’s missed penalty came after Byram was needlessly brought down by Woolford 15 yards out on the right, while Scotland international McCormack also clipped a post with a chip-cross.
McCormack was also guilty of a poor first touch and tame shot from Luke Varney’s cut-back but when the Scot was brought down by Alan Dunne inside the box, Warnock’s powerful left-footed penalty gave Forde no chance.
“You have to really beat Millwall,” Warnock said.
“It`s a sort of game where you take a 1-0 win and get out of there.”
Millwall finished the game with 10 men after Henry was carried off in the 87th minute, while Varney was also taken off in time added on, but neither injury is thought to be serious and the managers reported no broken bones.
Leeds United: Kenny, Byram, Peltier, Lees, Warnock, Green, Tonge, Norris, Varney, Morison, McCormack. Subs: Ashdown, Pearce, White, Brown, Diouf, Habibou, Hall.
Millwall: Forde, Dunne, Shittu, Lowry, Beevers, Marquis, Wright, Abdou, Henry, Woolford, Afobe. Subs: Taylor, Tyson, Taylor, Keogh, Smith, Osborne, Saville.
For full match report and reaction, read Sports Monday, free in Monday’s Yorkshire Post newspaper.