Top of the Championship table having won their last four matches as well as keeping six consecutive clean sheets, Leeds United manager Thomas Christiansen and his team would have been confident of going to Millwall on Saturday and picking up another positive result despite their poor record at The Den.
The Whites had already recorded convincing wins against Sunderland, Nottingham Forest, Burton Albion and Birmingham City in recent weeks, scoring 11 goals and conceding none at the other end, but they faced the Lions having lost on seven of their previous eight visits to south London.
Christiansen would have likely picked an unchanged line-up to the one that beat the latter had Liam Cooper not been unavailable through injury, with 21-year-old Conor Shaughnessy replacing the Leeds captain at the heart of the defence alongside Pontus Jansson.
Of course a trip to Millwall is renowned as being one of the toughest away games of the season, and it certainly would have proven to be a learning curve – and a useful one at that – for United’s Spanish boss in what is his first year in English football.
In what was a real battle on the pitch, the Yorkshire outfit’s players struggled to impose themselves on the game as they had done successfully against different opposition in previous weeks, and a number of their summer signings seemed to struggle to deal with the atmosphere and situation in south London.
Pierre-Michel Lasogga failed to show the explosive form he did against Burton and Birmingham, while attacking midfielders Pablo Hernandez, Ezgjan Alioski and Samu Saiz were substituted off during the encounter on a tough afternoon for the trio.
The former two were dragged off at half-time as Christiansen recognised that his team was struggling – something that will have impressed the Elland Road faithful with their manager clearly willing to act when something isn’t right – but his changes couldn’t prevent Leeds conceding to Aiden O’Brien’s goal 17 minutes from time and they failed to register a shot on target throughout the 90 minutes as their miserable record at The Den continued.
Jansson’s withdrawal because of an injury eight minutes from time – which left the visitors with 10 men on the pitch having used all of their substitutes – summed up what was a bad day at the office, but it could also be a hugely important one.
While some Leeds supporters would have been disappointed, the defeat may actually be one that helps Christiansen throughout the course of the rest of the campaign and makes them an even stronger outfit as they look to secure promotion back to the Premier League for the first time since 2004.
The Spaniard certainly would have learnt that while the likes of Hernandez and Saiz may be effective technically and will perform well against many Championship teams, the congested fixture list can take it out of those players physically and sometimes he needs to put in alternatives that are stronger and can battle out results on the road.
Gaetano Berardi, Ronaldo Vieira, Kemar Roofe, Mateusz Klich and Stuart Dallas would have all probably been better picks in the starting line-up against Millwall in hindsight, but it is an early-season lesson that Christiansen will live and learn from and he will be more aware of what is needed in future tough-looking fixtures.
The positive for the Leeds boss is that his big squad has already shown that it is capable of taking teams apart, while it does have players like Jansson, Cooper and Luke Ayling that can get stuck in and do the nasty work when required.
The Championship leaders may have suffered a setback against Millwall, but it is ultimately one that will help them in the long-term and further strengthen their bid to win promotion this season.