Behind Enemy Lines: Leeds United

MILLWALL travel to Elland Road looking to bounce back from a heart-breaking FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Brighton.

The Lions had won their last league game before the international break, as Ben Thompson netted twice away at St Andrew’s in a 2-0 victory, giving Neil Harris’ side their third away victory of the campaign.

Tempers flared in both technical areas before a late Leeds equaliser in the reverse fixture in September, and this game could be lively given the rollercoaster 4-3 that played out at Elland Road last January when Jed Wallace netted an injury-time winner.



Both sides need points to meet their respective goals of winning promotion and avoiding relegation.

Lucas Ball spoke to Russ Vernon this week.

Twitter: @Sports_Journo_1



Why do you support Leeds?

I support Leeds as when I was growing up watching football, my dad showed me a Leeds United game on TV – though I can't remember who we faced that day – and I got hooked to supporting them.

I went to my first game in 2001, when I nine, against Southampton, which Leeds won 2-0 thanks to goals from Robbie Keane and Harry Kewell and I really enjoyed that game and still go now. I’m 27 the day after this fixture.

What’s been your favourite season following the Whites?

My favourite season would have to be the 2009-10 season when we got promoted back into the Championship on the final day of the League One season.

Not only did we get promoted that season, but Leeds also knocked arch rivals Manchester United out of the FA Cup, and with me having a Manchester United-supporting uncle it gave me great pleasure to speak with him after the game.

I also felt that we played very well that season and deserved to gain promotion and I still remember that final-day victory over Bristol Rovers. Max Gradel was sent off in the first half and then shortly after the break we went a goal behind and I felt that we had blown our chances of promotion. That was until Jonny Howson and Jermaine Beckford scored the goals to send us up.

And the worst?

The worst for me would have to be the one when Leeds were relegated from the Premier League.

I was still at primary school when we got relegated on the Sunday. I cried on the day we went down and again the following day in school. I felt that was the last time I'd see my beloved Leeds United in the Premier League, especially with the majority of our players leaving the club I loved.

I thought we would be down in the EFL until I was in my late 40's. I can remember my friends at school the day after we got relegated laughing at us saying, "We'll beat you next season", considering I went to school with Sheffield Wednesday and Rotherham United fans.

The appointment of Marcelo Bielsa was a surprise – how do you rate the job he has done?

Since Marcelo Bielsa came in everyone wondered how we would do this season and I must say I'm pleased with the way we are playing.

He makes the players train three times per day and some of the players spend more time at the training ground than what they do at home. I remember one of the players saying that Bielsa, on his first day, got them to pick up litter around the training ground, to make them appreciate how hard most supporters have to work to pay for tickets.

He's very nice towards kids at first-team and under-23 games – he always stops for photos or chats with the fans at games and even if supporters see him in the streets he still stops for photos or autographs.

Do you think Leeds will win promotion back to the Premier League this season?

I believe that Leeds will gain promotion back to the Premier League finally after so many years in the EFL and after bad ownership and treatment from the EFL.

Leeds supporters need some excitement in their lives again and we deserve to see the good times return to Elland Road.

Promotion wouldn't be big for just the club but for the city too. Leeds is a one-club city, the supporters sell out every away end, and to get back to the Premier League would be a huge lift around the city and the club.

It would make Marcelo Bielsa one of the greatest Leeds United managers of all time if he were the one to lead the club back to the top flight of English football.

Ryan Leonard's long throw-in set up Millwall's goal against Leeds in the 1-1 draw at The Den

The Lions are of course battling to stay in the division – do you expect them to avoid the drop?

Unfortunately I don't think the Lions will avoid the drop, with what I've seen of other teams around them this campaign.

I feel you lack that bit of quality in the final third and I was surprised that Neil Harris didn't strengthen in that department during the January transfer window.

I also feel they lack a bit of depth at the back and every time I watch them I feel like they will concede goals. Even if they do score one or two I can see them conceding three and they will struggle to stay up with those sort of performances.

Last season’s fixture at Elland Road was a crazy one – would you expect a much tighter affair defensively this time around?

Possibly, especially with Leeds’ defence playing quite well and conceding one goal in our last four games. If it wasn't for a defensive mistake by the captain Liam Cooper last time out against Sheffield United I believe that game could have been a 0-0 draw.

Last season's encounter was, as you said, a crazy game, and if anyone thinks we might see something like that again on Saturday then I would call them crazy as I don't feel like we will.

Which of the Bielsa’s players will the Lions need to pay most attention to?

They all perform as a unit which showed in the West Brom game at Elland Road. But if I were to pick players that the Lions need to pay attention to then I would say Gjanni Alioski and Pablo Hernandez.

Both Alioski and Hernandez have been brilliant this season, Alioski particularly since moving back to left-back in the last few games.

Also look out for Tyler Roberts, naturally a striker, but he's been playing alongside Mateusz Klich in midfield, behind Patrick Bamford, and likes to get in behind the defence on numerous occasion.

Likewise, which Millwall players are you worried about facing?

I was going to say Shane Ferguson as I felt he was Millwall's key man in games that I've seen this season, but since he's suspended I’ll go with Ryan Leonard, Steve Morison and Tom Elliott.

Leonard has been playing out of his skin in recent games and he has always impressed me when I've seen him play. As for Morison and Elliott they are both former players of Leeds United and both seem to do well when they play against Leeds. In last season's crazy game Elliott scored to make it 3-3 and caused us problems throughout, and Morison got two assists.

What are your thoughts on Neil Harris?

I think Neil is a great manager. His managerial career has impressed me and it wouldn't surprise me if another club in the Championship came calling for him after the work he's done at The Den.

I feel that he should be managing in the Championship on a weekly basis and if he had strengthened up front and at the back then I feel he might have done better than what he has this campaign with Millwall.

If you could sign one of his players, who would it be and why?

Ryan Leonard. I think that he's capable of playing in the top end of the division and in the Premier League.

I thought he was unlucky when he joined Sheffield United before going to the Lions as he never got a chance to showcase his talent at Bramall Lane due to the depth of their squad.

However, since he's gone to Millwall he's played brilliantly and shown the talent that he's got.

What’s your predicted Leeds starting XI and formation?

4-1-4-1

Peacock-Farrell; Ayling, Berardi, Cooper, Alioski; Phillips; Hernandez, Klich, Roberts, Harrison; Bamford.

Will you be at the game on Saturday afternoon?

Yes. I'll be sat in the north-west corner near the Don Revie Kop at Elland Road, along with my dad and uncle and members of the Leeds United Supporters Club I attend games with.

Finally, what’s your score prediction?

Leeds 3-0 Millwall

Staff

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