Healy rewards reduced ranks of Leeds faithful


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They still roared out "Marching on Together", but with only 20,440 present, they were singing and marching in drastically reduced numbers. In their first season outside the Premiership, Leeds averaged 29,500. On the equivalent afternoon 12 months ago, when Sky's cameras also offered live coverage, over 30,000 watched them defeat Derby County.

Such statistics undermined the claim by Kevin Blackwell, the Leeds manager, that the absenteeism was partly due to "holiday week" in the city. "I can't be blamed for the size of the crowd," he said. "This is a massively supported club and always will be."

It is too soon to say definitively that Bates, the former Chelsea chairman who took control in January, has miscalculated. However, many Leeds fans appear reluctant to part with their brass before seeing whether Blackwell's latest revamp has produced a team capable of pushing for promotion.

The opening match seldom provides a realistic pointer to long-term prospects. Leeds last started with a defeat in 1989, when Newcastle routed them 5-2, and yet went on to win the Second Division. The sequence briefly looked threatened when Millwall, whose summer of turmoil has been of the kind to which Elland Road is accustomed, cancelled out Healy's first-half goal with a splendid strike by Don Hutchison, but the Northern Irishman's penalty proved decisive.

Blackwell expects Leeds to be "a top 10-plus" outfit, and stressed that the side contained three debutants and an untried engine-room of Eirik Bakke and the outstanding Shaun Derry. With Rob Hulse and Steve Stone, he felt, he would have "strength in depth not afforded to any manager here for three years".

Millwall's disarray reflected the upheaval caused by Steve Claridge's dismissal after 36 days and the sale of key players. Colin Lee, in charge for just 12 days and armed with a "minute budget", may have feared the worst after Healy rewarded Leeds' initial enterprise by volleying in Eddie Lewis's header.

But at the interval Lee switched Jody Morris into Hutchison's holding role and sent the former Scotland midfielder forward. Shortly after the hour, a weak challenge by Leeds' new left-back Dan Harding enabled Alan Dunne to set up Hutchison.

Although no Millwall followers were present, the club having declined their ticket allocation after trouble between rival fans last December, the home faithful grew restless until Marvin Elliott's rash tackle on Bakke allowed Healy to finish with aplomb.

Goals: Healy (28) 1-0; Hutchison (61) 1-1; Healy pen (72) 2-1.

Leeds United (4-4-2): Sullivan; Kelly, Butler, Gregan, Harding; Wright (Richardson, 80), Derry, Bakke, Lewis; Healy, Blake (Ricketts, 76). Substitutes not used: Bennett (gk), Einarsson, Kilgallon.

Millwall (4-1-4-1): Marshall; Dunne, Phillips, Lawrence, Vincent; Hutchison; Serioux (Braniff, 90), Morris, Elliott (Igoe, 79), Simpson (May, 79); Hayles. Substitutes not used: Robinson, Peeters.

Referee: G Laws (Tyne & Wear).

Booked: Leeds United Healy, Gregan; Millwall Hayles, Phillips.

Man of the match: Derry.

Attendance: 20,440.