A bit of adversity can do wonders to focus the mind.
Leeds United had 45 minutes with a 2-0 deficit and an erratic referee to overcome. They needed only half of them.
Things had been going well for the Whites during their mini FA Cup enforced break – perhaps too well.
Granted, they had not signed the forward with English experience they were looking for, but their transfer business for the winter was wrapped up on Monday, Jean-Kevin Augustun ushered through the door to follow Ian Poveda. The latter was an unused substitute last night, the former must have been watching – and listening – from the stands licking his lips at joining the beautiful madness that played out on a cold Tuesday night at Elland Road. Four minutes was all it took to puncture the mood, but by the time Patrick Bamford stooped to head Leeds 3-2 in front – and only then – the adversity seemed like a good thing.
Just watching the teams walking out of the tunnel, it did not take a genius to work out that Millwall would be a threat at set pieces, but Leeds did very little to make it difficult for Shaun Hutchinson to head in at the far post.
If Leeds were off form, it was nothing compared to referee Darren England.
The game was in its early minutes when Millwall persuaded him to change a terrible decision to give the Whites a corner kick, and he never recovered.
The early goal and the shaky refereeing at least gave the home fans something other than their own players to rally against.
Stuart Dallas burst through in the 18th minute and forced an excellent save from Bartosz Bialkowski, but the officials did not appreciate it, inexplicably giving a goalkick. Elland Road was rightly outraged.
What was not right was objects apparently thrown from the stands. It happened again after the penalty, and in the second half.
In case anyone was in doubt, the save was replayed on the big screen. Controversial decisions are not supposed to be shown again, but there was nothing controversial about it.
The mood only darkened when Jon Dadi Bodvarsson won a 22nd-minute penalty, but in truth he should not have had the chance.
The winger wanted the ball far more than Helder Costa and although many thought Bodvarsson had run the ball out – it was certainly a very close call – he was able to run into the area, where he was sandwiched between Liam Cooper and Ezgjan Alioski. The ground was outraged when England pointed to the spot, but Jed Wallace showed no sympathy, drilling into Kiko Casilla’s bottom left-hand corner.
The two goals were Millwall’s only two shots on target of the half and Leeds inevitably dominated possession. It was in Millwall’s best interests to sit back and soak it up.
Alioski shot over, Mateusz Klich wide, Bamford straight at the goalkeeper. His header hit a defender, though England was deaf to the optimistic penalty appeal, and Pablo Hernandez wriggled into space but shot over. When Millwall had good chances to break Mahion Romeo and Bodvarsson’s touches let them down.
Leeds were out early for the second half and when it kicked off they came flying out of the blocks.
Crucially, they got a goal early – three minutes in – to lift a crowd which had calmed towards the end of the first half. Luke Ayling flicked on a corner, Harrison’s shot was saved and Bamford tucked it in.
Casilla was forced to touch a Tom Bradshaw shot on the turn just wide.
Generally, though, it was Leeds calling the shots, Bamford straining his neck to put an Alioski cross just wide, Jack Harrison’s volley well saved by Bialkowski.
The equaliser came in the 62nd minute, Hernandez half-volleying the ball inside the far post when a defender headed it out to him. Five minutes later Bamford was straining his neck muscles again to accept the gift Ayling’s cross presented him with.
From there, the game ought to have been put to bed, but Costa curled a shot onto the crossbar and Klich ballooned over an empty net after Leeds had carved Millwall openr.
But where would be the fun in doing it the easy way?
Leeds United: Casilla; Dallas, Ayling, Cooper, Alioski; White; Costa, Hernandez (Shackleton 90+4), Klich, Harrison; Bamford. Unused substitutes: Meslier, Poveda, Roberts, Struijk, Stevens, Casey.
Millwall: Bialkowski; Hutchinson, Pearce (Ferguson 72), Cooper; Romeo, Molumby, Woods, M Wallace; J Wallace, Bradshaw (Smith 82), Bodvarsson (Mahoney 72). Unused substitutes: O’Brien, Skalak, Sandford, Mitchell.
Referee: D England (South Yorkshire).