14 May 2009
Millwall 1 - 0 Leeds Utd
And in the words of rock legend Jon Bon Jovi, Bermondsey's dreams of a trip to Wembley are well and truly 'Living on a Prayer'.
The club's record goal scorer Neil Harris handed the Lions the slender advantage going into tonight's vital second leg of the playoff semi-final at Elland Road, in a game that saw Yorkshire's third biggest club torn to shreds - and their fearsome frontline left virtually toothless.
Skipper Tony Craig and - in particular - Zak Whitbread did an excellent job on Jermaine Beckford and long-haired Lucciano Becchio, who were reduced to just five attempts on goal all afternoon.
But in a game in which almost the entire side can hold their head up high, local legend Chopper stepped up to the mark, to bury his one clear-cut chance 20 minutes from time and set the Den rocking.
Much of the action was in midfield where the domination and possession ebbed and flowed between the sides, as goalmouth openings were few and far between.
Leeds' top scorer Beckford had his only clear sight on goal just two minutes in, when he got in behind big Zak to lash a venomous volley towards the bottom corner, that forced a good save from David Forde down to his left.
Andy Frampton found himself in an unusual goal-scoring opportunity five minutes later. A hanging cross was headed clear by Jonathon Douglas on the far post and fell invitingly in the box for player of the season Framps, who fired his effort well wide.
But on thirteen minutes, the Lions' masterplan looked to have fallen apart when JJ Price - as his shirt read - limped out of the action with a hamstring pull.
On came Harris and instantly gave the crowd a much-needed lift, as the volume inside the cauldron went up another notch. Leeds winger Robert Snodgrass was fortunate only to be booked, when he appeared to nut David Martin on 22 minutes - who himself talked himself into the book.
The first half trickled by with Adam Bolder and Jimmy Abdou wrestling for territory, until Martin clipped the crossbar with his audacious effort from an in-swinging corner.
Becchio watched his blasted left-foot volley creep agonizingly wide five minutes before the break, while Harris appealed for a penalty after a push from Sam Sodje at the other end.
Teenage sensation Fabian Delph should be ashamed of himself after a horror tackle on Gary Alexander in the dying seconds of the first half. The Manchester United target somehow avoided an early bath after he scythed down the Lions striker on the halfway line.
Two last ditch and goal-saving challenges at either end sparked the second period into life. After a neat interchange between the Leeds front two, a neat back heel from the Italian into the east Londoner’s path gave Beckford a sure shot on goal, but for a fully-committed clattering by the full back on the edge of the box.
Moments later, James Henry's whipped free kick was turned behind by the imperious Sodje as he snatched the ball
out of Whitbread's path, with the big centre back certain to score from close range.
With the visiting fans failing to inspire the Whites, the Leeds side appeared to lack a creative spark and seemed content to defend the 0-0 draw for the return leg. Harris improvised excellently on 55 minutes when his deft flick from way behind him almost caught the Leeds keeper off guard, but Casper Ankergren managed to fingertip his effort to safety.
But the Lions continued to press, and on 71 minutes the complexion of the semi-final changed completely.
A brilliant volleyed cross from the right by Alexander, an untimely slip by the otherwise faultless Richard Naylor and lethal poacher Harris had all the space he needed. He danced inside Douglas before firing past Ankergren, to let loose absolute pandemonium.
After the two dozen or so fans were ushered back into the stands, realisation of the result began to sink in.
But Kenny Jackett did not allow his Lions to sit back as they pushed for the second.
Frampton powered a header just over from one of a string of Henry's inch-perfect deliveries, while Alexander continued to hunt and hassle for his opening.
With five minutes to go, Henry had a great opportunity to put the tie beyond doubt after a quick-fire counter attack.
Harris picked out the winger in acres of space down the right and he showed a clean pair of heels to the Yorkshire backline. As he pulled the trigger, the unbreakable Sodje slid in to block not once or twice, but three times as the chance petered out.
At the end of an exhausting 90 minutes of tantalising football, Millwall fans streamed out of the Den with their chests puffed out, but for a little itching feeling that their side deserved a larger lead for that long, lonely trip up to Elland Road.
Jackett said afterwards: "We go up to Yorkshire and will have to follow that performance up.
"Neil's was a goal-scorer’s goal. He was 1-on-1 with the goalkeeper and as he turned inside, thankfully he kept it low and it was a quality finish.
"Maybe it was written for him before the game, but that's football, and that's Neil - but it was an important clean
sheet for us by the boys at the back, who were terrific and kept a good frontline quiet."
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