Alex Mowatt’s deflected first half free-kick earned Leeds United a massive three points as they beat Millwall 1-0 at Elland Road.
The Whites were good value for their win and could have won by more if they had been more clinical up front, but they will settle for a victory that takes them eight points above third from bottom Millwall.
Leeds made one change from the side that won at Reading in midweek with Rudy Austin fit again to replace the injured Tommaso Bianchi and they stuck to the 4-2-3-1 system that has been standing them in good stead in recent games.
They started brightly without bringing visitors’ keeper David Forde into action, although Sam Byram went close with a low controlled volley from Charlie Taylor’s cross and Mowatt’s angled chip went over after Steve Morison brought the ball down well from a long ball forward.
Millwall slowly settled into the contest and their giant forward Stefan Maierhofer saw a shot comfortably saved by Marco Silvestri when he was left in space just outside the box.
Joss Hooiveld headed over from a corner and the visitors came close on 23 minutes when Diego Fabbrini’s near-post shot was deflected into the side-netting.
United got back on attack and Sol Bamba’s near post header from Luke Murphy’s free-kick went close. A minute later Byram saw a header blocked out for a corner from a Charlie Taylor cross.
A goal did come on 39 minutes, however, as Mowatt bagged his fifth of the season with a free-kick that deflected into the roof of the net via a deflection off a defender in the wall.
Leeds finished the half strongly with Austin’s acrobatic volley from a Morison cross being saved at two attempts by Forde.
A big shout for a penalty was denied when Austin appeared to be brought down and to add insult to injury the United midfielder was booked for an alleged dive.
Morison then had a big chance after being presented with the ball by Millwall only for keeper Forde to be quickly out to save at his feet.
Morison was in the thick of the action at the start of the second half as well as he headed a decent chance over.
But Millwall manager Ian Holloway made changes to bring on an extra forward in Ricardo Fuller and suddenly carried more of a threat.
They had their best chance just after the hour when Lee Gregory robbed Giuseppe Bellusci just outside the box and played in Leeds transfer target Martyn Woolford, who blazed over to the Whites’ relief.
Angel Martinez hit a shot just wide from the edge of the box, but Leeds saw out their tough spell and began to break out with purpose in the closing stages, particularly after introducing the fresh legs of Mirco Antenucci up front.
Byram lashed a volley over and the impressive Murphy went on a great run and shot from the edge of the box that was beaten away by Forde. As the ball came out to Mowatt he went down in the box and again there was no penalty with the United player booked for a dive.
Antenucci was next to waste a good opportunity with a poor shot and Scott Wootton sent a header over when unmarked in the box.
Ricardo Fuller was inches away from equalising for Millwall after a good run into the box, but Leeds looked the more likely to score in added time with Morison unable to cap his tremendous work rate with a goal as he had two efforts blocked when through on goal.
Head coach Neil Redfearn thought United were value for their win, which lifted the club up to 12th place in the Sky Bet Championship.
He said: “We had to scrap it out at the end, but I thought we were terrific first half and we murdered them. But we didn’t put them away.
“This was always going to be a tough game for us today, built up in the press as a six-pointer, but we’ve done well today and done what we needed to do.
“We are on a good run and we are getting confidence from it. We’ve got to start looking up now.”
Leeds United 1
Saturday, February 14, 2015
Sky Bet Championship
Leeds: Silvestri, Wootton, Bamba, Bellusci, C Taylor, Byram, Murphy, Cook, Austin (Antenucci 70), Mowatt, Morison.
Millwall: Forde, Cummings, Dunne, Hooiveld, Harding, Williams, Martinez (Upson 60), Fabbrini (Fuller 60), Woolford, Martin, Maierhofer (Gregory 45).
Referee: Paul Tierney