Leeds keen to hit back at Derby after Lions prosper

IN a week where Leeds United’s schedule includes trips to Millwall and Derby County, most players would have little difficulty picking out the game that would offer the most hostile atmosphere.

The New Den may not be quite as intimidating as its predecessor on Cold Blow Lane but the locals still manage to make SE16 somewhere that visitors fear to tread.

With Leeds being even less welcome than most round Bermondsey, the reception afforded the Yorkshire club invariably borders on outright hatred – as was proved once again at the weekend when only a major police operation and the holding back of the 2,191 away fans for more than an hour after the final whistle ensured the day passed off peacefully.

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For Paul Connolly, however, United’s visit to south London was always likely to be a walk in the park compared to what awaits him at Pride Park tomorrow night.

“I won’t get a good reception,” admitted the former Derby full-back to the Yorkshire Post in the wake of United’s 3-2 defeat to Millwall.

“It is because of what I said when I left (last summer). I said Leeds were a bigger club.

“I stand by those words. But it means it will be tin-hat time. All that matters is we win. If we do, I will be the happiest man alive.”

If Leeds do claim all three points tomorrow night, Connolly won’t be the only one wearing a broad smile come the final whistle.

United, frankly, need to return to winning ways after a weekend that saw several of the chasing pack crank up the pressure on Simon Grayson’s men – who dropped a place in the table courtesy of losing to the Lions

The four-point advantage Leeds hold over seventh place remains intact but wins for Hull City and Leicester City mean that five clubs are now snapping at the Yorkshire club’s heels.

Another slip-up against Derby, therefore, is likely to prove very damaging for a side who have been in the top six since late last year.

Certainly, United cannot afford a repeat of their largely lacklustre performance at The New Den where, but for a 25-minute period either side of the interval, they were distinctly second best.

Millwall’s winning margin may have been only one goal but, with steadier finishing, it could have been much, much more.

Once again, United’s defensive frailty was their undoing with Kasper Schmeichel, in particular, unlikely to look back on his visit to south London with any fondness.

Not only did the Danish goalkeeper have to draw referee Scott Mathieson’s attention to a bottle that was thrown at him during the second half, but, far more importantly in terms of the game, he was at fault for both of the Lions’ first half goals.

First, Schmeichel was beaten by a 24th-minute free-kick from James Henry despite the ball arrowing towards the half of the goal where he was standing. He even got a hand to the effort but was still unable to prevent the ball flying into the top corner.

Then, on the half-hour, Liam Trotter was somehow allowed to half-volley Andros Townsend’s corner into the net from just four yards out after neither Schmeichel nor his defence reacted quickly enough to the danger.

At 2-0 down and with Millwall’s biggest home crowd of the season in raucous mood, it looked like being a long afternoon for the visitors.

Credit, therefore, is due to Leeds for staging something of a fightback as Luciano Becchio was denied by a superb block from Danny Ward before Robert Snodgrass wasted a glorious opportunity at the back post.

Grayson’s response at half-time was to bring Davide Somma on and switch to a 4-4-2 formation. The move paid off within six minutes of the restart when Erick Lichaj’s ball over the top was turned into the net by Becchio after Somma’s presence had unsettled the Lions defence.

Suddenly, Leeds sensed a way back and only a stunning one-handed save from David Forde kept out Max Gradel’s sweetly-struck effort.

It was a fine block and one whose value was underlined on 62 minutes when Millwall restored their two-goal advantage when Steve Morison beat Schmeichel to the ball after Henry’s shot had cannoned off Leigh Bromby.

After that, the home side dominated and should really have stretched their lead with Neil Harris twice squandering excellent opportunities.

Leeds did net a consolation goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time through Andy O’Brien, but it was far too late to affect the result.

Connolly said: “I am desperate for the three points against my old club. Millwall was definitely a missed opportunity. It is always tough going there, I have played at The New Den four times now and never won.

“We gave them the two goals in the first half but then got back in it after half-time. I was right behind Max’s shot. It was a great save, down to his left with a strong hand.

“If that had gone in, it would have been 2-2 and we were in the ascendancy. Unfortunately, they then get a ricochet and scored a third. It was almost over then.

“All six games are probably must-win if we want automatic promotion. We haven’t even talked about missing out on the top six.

“We have still got the belief. When we have had a setback, we have bounced back. Now we have to do that at Derby.”