Marcelo Bielsa’s men made life hard for themselves against the lowly Lions as they went behind twice and had a penalty saved, but showed commendable spirit to come through in the end with two goals in the last 20 minutes.
Pablo Hernandez struck twice and Luke Ayling was also on target, both proving inspirational figures with their individual performances as well as their goals, the importance of which could be seen as Leeds went back above rivals Sheffield United, who in a big twist lost 3-2 at home to Bristol City after they had been leading 2-1.
In a real up and down game Leeds made a poor start and could not complain about being a goal down inside 11 minutes.
Ben Marshall had a shot blocked for Millwall in the opening minute after he was found in the area and Jed Wallace got into the box soon after only to be denied by a good save low down from Bailey Peacock-Farrell, who was back in goal for the Whites with Kiko Casilla suspended.
The next Millwall attack brough a goal as the ball appeared to be going out for a goalkick, but Mahlon Romeo chased it and managed to just keep it in. At the same time he produced a fine cross and Ben Thompson headed home.
Leeds were handed a quick return when awarded only their third penalty of the season on 17 minutes as Ezgjan Alioski was upended by Wallace. It was not the biggest shout the team have had all season, but Patrick Bamford’s poor spot kick was aimed straight down the middle and keeper David Martin saved with his legs.
United began to come on stronger from this point, however, and should have levelled when Jack Harrison played a great one-two with Hernandez only to see his shot saved by Martin when one-on-one with the keeper.
They did finally get level on 34 minutes as a terrific flowing move saw Mateusz Klich play Luke Ayling in down the right and his intelligent pull back was met by Hernandez who scored his 11th goal of the season.
Tyler Roberts produced a fine turn soon after, but his shot from the edge of box was well saved low down by Martin.
Another promising move ended when Kalvin Phillips fired a 20-yard shot over and the half ended all square.
United made a good start to the second half and could have had a second penalty when Pontus Jansson appeared to be pushed over in the area. A dangerous Roberts cross was deflected over and Roberts then hit an angled volley that went wide.
Hernandez shot wide from the edge of the box after combining with Jansson who went on a charge out of defence up the right wing.
Leeds were caught out on 54 minutes, however, when they had too many men upfield and after half-time substitute Barry Douglas lost the ball on the left wing it was quickly transferred to the unmarked Marshall just outside the home area. He cut inside and was brought down by the desperate outstretched foot of Liam Cooper to bring about a Millwall penalty.
Unlike Bamford’s earlier effort Marshall put away the spot-kick with confidence and United were behind for the second time.
The Whites looked shellshocked for a while, but recovered their composure and attacking intent with Hernandez single handedly trying to lift the team with good runs that led to one shot being comfortably saved and another going wide.
Bielsa gambled by taking off defender Jansson to put on Jack Clarke on the right wing and within four minutes Leeds were level.
Harrison, who worked hard all game, did well to keep the ball in on the bye-line and Douglas’s instant chip in was met by a strong header from Ayling with keeper Martin given no chance.
The roof was lifted off at Elland Road and United went for broke. Adam Forshaw’s long strike was fumbled by Martin, but fortunately for the keeper the ball went wide and the resulting corner came to nothing.
A chance went begging when Patrick Bamford fired a poor free-kick well over, but a winning goal followed in the 83rd minute as Roberts did well down the left and his low ball in was smashed in from close range by Hernandez.
Millwall threw on two strikers in a bid to hit back, but Leeds saw out the remainder with no alarms to earn a precious three points.
Head coach Marcelo Bielsa was pleased with the way his team kept playing despite falling behind.
He said: “They created three chances and scored twice and it was hard for us to change the result. But we changed the result with the style that this team have. I think we deserved to win.”
On his decision to take off Pontus Jansson to bring on winger Jack Clarke in the second half, the Leeds boss explained: “We were thinking of taking out one of the two centre-backs to put two more players in the offensive part of the team.
“The idea was to play with only one centre-back, Phillips in front of him and Klich and Pablo in front of him with Tyler Roberts in front of the midfield then we keep with the couples on the right and left sides.
“When Pontus received the yellow card we didn’t want to play with one player at the back with a yellow card.
“When Forshaw came on we went to play with two centre-backs and they put men forward Pablo had to defend for the team in midfield.”
Millwall manager Neil Harris felt on the balance of play Leeds were worthy winners.
He said: “Leeds are obviously a top side and we ran them close. Probably on chances created and they missed a penalty they deserved to win.
“I am disappointed with the second goal we gave away. Fine margins went Leeds’ way on a number of occasions.”
Leeds United 3
(Hernandez 34, 83, Ayling 71)
(Thompson 11, Marshall 56, pen)
Saturday, March 30, 2019
Sky Bet Championship
Leeds: Peacock-Farrell, Ayling, Jansson (Clarke 67), Cooper, Alioski (Douglas 45), Phillips, Hernandez, Klich (Forshaw 74), Roberts, Harrison, Bamford.
Millwall: Martin, Romeo, Pearce, Cooper, Meredith (O’Brien 84), Wallace, Leonard, Tunnicliffe (Morison 85), Thompson (Elliott 86), Marshall, Gregory.
Referee: Darren Bond.