When you talk about ‘bogey’ configurations, Millwall away is horrendous. Leeds have won at the Den once in the last decade – in 2012 with the game’s only goal coming from Ross McCormack. Before then you’re looking back as far as April 2008 during our League One campaign before our previous win. To say it’s an unhappy place is an understatement. Ignoring the “evocative” atmosphere and the cross-section of home fans who somehow managed to sidestep 200,000 years of human evolution it’s just an unpleasant place for Leeds United. Turkish flags, Galatasaray shirts and the furrowed brows of men caught between punching their wives and abusing minorities.
What compounds the misery of such a visit is when you’re without Kemar Roofe, Patrick Bamford, Pablo Hernandez and Gaetano Berardi. 75% of those players are regular first-team players and the other is the intended rotation option for the other. This means that Leeds are without a proven goalscorer and our most creative outlet – though thankfully Pontus Jansson can easily gloss over Berardi’s absence. While the big Swede is less accomplished at the tactical system the squad are asked to play, he’s a better traditional defender and has huge physical presence – both useful qualities in a game such as Millwall.
Leeds managing to rescue a point from a trip to Millwall is a terrific result. Granted, we expect to win more games than we lose under Bielsa, the fact that Leeds managed to come home with anything at all shows progress. We’ve met them on their home turf 9 times in the last 10 years, and we’ve only scraped together 3 points from that. Coming home with an additional one betters anything we’ve achieved in the last 6 and a half years. The beautiful conclusion of that game including a scuffle between the benches, followed by a 20-yard cross-goal shot from Jack Harrison. Lovely. Neil Harris would then talk to the press about his hurt feelings and how inappropriate Leeds’ celebrations were – electing to both ignore that Millwall build their identity around being hated, and how they themselves celebrated the 4-3 win at Elland Road last Winter. The rat-faced simpleton.
We now take on Preston on our home turf tonight – a side who Bielsa thinks are incredibly good (and he’s not wrong). Their league position doesn’t do their ability justice and we’re in for a difficult game – doubly so because we’re still without those 4 big players. Though the fact that Adam Forshaw is returning to fitness is a positive, as is the obvious intent to start including Edmondson and Clarke in the first team (both Academy players making the bench in the last couple of games). There’s obviously a plan to use them, but Bielsa is protecting their development in ways that previous coaches haven’t. One need only look through a long and illustrious list of promising Academy prospects who had their careers unfairly dampened by being thrown in at the deep end with little to no support.
And on that note, what I got from the Boro game and again from Millwall is how much we truly miss Pablo Hernandez. Tight contests require moments of individual brilliance to break the deadlock and Pablo is the most reliable conduit of such moments. A perfect cross, a perfect pass, or just the innate ability to dictate how the attack is shaped to create maximum damage – the Spaniard has it all. The Boro game was a tight affair that simply lacked that cutting edge – something I think Pablo has in his locker. He’s a huge miss for us and while I believe Jack Clarke has the aptitude to be a similar asset, relying on him so early would be a bad idea.
The other item of note is Tyler Roberts who has faced a (somewhat unfair) reaction to his start at Leeds. People seem to forget that the lad has been injured since January and missed much of pre-season. He’s rusty. He was also bought for his potential, not for his immediate ability. You could say the same of Roofe, who was bought knowing he’d need to adjust to the step-up (which you’d say he now has). Roberts will need time to adjust to the system, to the players, to everything. Frustrating as it is that we’ve found ourselves relying on a player we need to be patient with, it’s exactly that. Have faith, he’ll be good. We don’t want to rush Roofe back and risk a longer-term injury given Bamford may have a long-term recurring injury.
Onto Preston and the opportunity to stay top.