It was not pretty, but Leeds United ended their six-match run without a win as they beat Millwall 2-1 at Elland Road.
First half goals from strikers Matt Smith and Ross McCormack proved enough to earn a valuable three points that put them 15 ahead of the third from bottom Londoners.
A superb strike by Millwall substitute DJ Campbell made a fight of it, but the Whites saw out the game for their first win at Elland Road since February 1.
This was far from United’s best performance of the season as they resorted to hit and hope football with little purpose at times against opponents who played much better in midfield.
But they went ahead out of the blue with their first effort on goal in the 19th minute as Smith flicked on Connor Wickham’s long throw and the ball looped over out of position goalkeeper David Forde to drop into the far corner of the net.
Martyn Woolford and Paul Robinson went close to equalising for the visitors, but it was Leeds who doubled their advantage with another goal that came out of nowhere four minutes before half-time.
There seemed no danger when Tom Lees made a block tackle deep in his own half, but the ball rebounded into space and as keeper Forde changed his mind in coming off his line for it McCormack was the only player to react.
He got to the ball, cut in and then put the ball between Forde’s legs to score from a tight angle to give his side a lead they had hardly deserved.
The second half brought more entertainment with chances at both end in the first two minutes. Mark Beevers saw his low shot saved by Jack Butland then Smith came within a whisker of his second goal as he met Alex Mowatt’s cross only for his header to go just wide.
Luke Murphy hit a volley wide from the edge of the box and McCormack was not far wide with an angled shot after twisting and turning to get free in the box.
It was Millwall’s turn to score out of the blue in the 73rd minute when Campbell beat Butland with a great volley from outside the box and it was game on now.
Stefan Maiehofer then saw a shot saved by Butland’s legs a minute later, but the expected Millwall onslaught did not quite come as Leeds defended well in the closing stages to see the game out.
They could have added another in the sixth minute of injury-time, but McCormack saw his shot blocked on the line with Forde well beaten.
It was relief rather than celebration at the end with manager Brian McDermott admitting it was important that they just won.
He said: “That was a big win. We haven’t won for a little while. I’ve got a lot of young boys out there, running around, who really want to play for Leeds and they dug in.
“The only thing that matters in every game is the result. I’ve got a lot of youngsters out there. People don’t take that into account sometimes.
“They say Millwall are fighting for their lives, this football club is fighting for its life as well.
“I was absolutely delighted with the resilience, the spirit, that dressing room, everything about it.
“You could turn round and say we didn’t play silky football, but over 46 games when you’ve got a situation that we’re in at this moment in time you’re not going to get silky football with the uncertainty at the football club.”
Leeds United 2
(Smith 19, McCormack 41)
Saturday, March 22, 2014
Sky Bet Championship
Leeds: Butland; Byram (Wootton 90), Lees, Pearce, Pugh; Mowatt, Austin, Murphy (Tonge 84), Wickham (Hunt 86); McCormack, Smith.
Millwall: Forde; Dunne, Robinson, Lowry, Beevers; Onyedinma (Jackson 59), Garvan, Upson (Campbell 59), Woolford; McDonald, Marquis (Maiehofer 58).
Referee: Stuart Attwell.