By Matt Rowson
When she appears, the first thing that you notice is how small she is... slim, almost painfully skinny. Her movement is purposeful and deliberate but in no way showy or aggressive. When she speaks, it's with an awkward politeness... "Thank you very much for coming"... then she looks away, as if unsure what to do or say next. You half expect her to offer you tea and biscuits, or comment on the weather. But appearances can be deceptive...
Sometimes. Not always. Other times, what you see is what you get. Take Kevin Muscat, for example. Looks like a thug, a bruiser. For a reason. No illusion here. His recent recruitment by Millwall was one of those moves that was always destined to happen at some point... like Ginola joining Spurs, or Ashley Ward signing for Sheffield United. Once again Millwall have a nasty piece of work of truly notorious proportions, following in a proud tradition that boasts the likes of Terry Hurlock, Ben Thatcher and Alex Rae. In all fairness, they were in danger of becoming quite a likeable team there for a minute, which would never have done at all.
Muscat is just one of a number of recent arrivals at the New Den, signings that were vital both to add bulk to what looks a fairly thin squad and to assuage the unhappy locals. Losing Steven Reid was one thing, but the disappointing retirement of the hugely promising Richard Sadlier this week at the age of twenty-four is a body blow, albeit that his hip injury had limited his involvement for the last couple of seasons. With Neil Harris also struggling to recapture his form of old, it looks as if the exciting Millwall side of recent times may have passed over its best opportunity of success in the play-offs fifteen months ago. Which isn't to say that Millwall aren't among a number of similarly adequate but inconsistent sides who could make the play-offs with a prevailing wind, but there was a time when they might have anticipated better.
In goal for the Lions will be former Liverpool reserve Tony Warner... a very decent keeper, Warner is out of contract at the end of the season and rumoured to have already decided on a move. His cover is Frenchman Willy Gueret.
At the back, Muscat's arrival from Rangers looks likely to limit the future involvement of Matt Lawrence... the Australian didn't take long to "mix it" in his new surroundings, being involved in the off-the-ball incident which led to the sending off of Palace's Tommy Black a week ago.
On the left, eighteen year-old Tony Craig (born in 1985 - bloody hell) has had a run in the side having been given his debut at the tail-end of last season. This has meant no place for popular Irishman Robbie Ryan, whose enthusiasm wins him points with the support, slightly glossing over a sometimes costly lack of pace. Like most of the Millwall side, Ryan scored against us at the New Den last season. Erstwhile candidate for the left-back slot Ronnie Bull has departed to Yeovil on loan.
In the centre, Darren Ward is enjoying his best form since leaving Vicarage Road... no great mystery here, Darren is great in the air, not so great on the deck. He's partnered with Stuart Nethercott who, with Lawrence's removal from the team, seems to be the most likely source of a generous cock-up in Millwall's back-line (and there were a number of them on offer from the Lions' defence at Gillingham by all accounts). Nethercott's place appears to be under threat from Paul Robinson, a twenty-one year-old currently returning to fitness who impressed in a run in the side last term. Another two centre-backs, Mark Phillips and Joe Dolan, are both injured, with hopes of seeing the latter in a Lions shirt again fading.
In midfield, Tim Cahill and Dennis Wise appear to be fixtures in the centre... Cahill, a frequent goalscorer in the past, has struggled for form this season. Wise has been generally more impressive, but the quality of his set-pieces has been attracting scorn on club messageboards.
Millwall's chief failing this season has been a lack of width in the midfield, which makes Paul Ifill's return from injury particularly significant. On the left, a place seems to be waiting for quick young French winger Abou Fofana, who arrived from Juventus last month but has also been recovering from injury - he made a promising debut of the bench at the weekend. In the absence of both, wide roles have been filled with a varying degree of discomfort by Charlie Hearn, a central midfielder for the future, Juan, a lightweight Brazilian on loan from Arsenal, and the chunky Andy Roberts, whose decent recent form isn't thought likely to be sufficient to keep him in the side when Fofana is fit. Dave Livermore, a water-carrier popular with the manager who was dismissed in this fixture last year, is also returning from injury.
With Sadlier's retirement, yet more pressure falls onto the shoulders of Neil Harris, who will be cut more slack then many other strikers would be for obvious reasons but hasn't been fulfilling his potential recently. Noel Whelan will have to work rather harder to win over some understandably sceptical fans... he hasn't yet looked match fit. Giant Belgian Bob Peeters, 6ft5, is another option having recently arrived from Vitesse Arnhem - he scored twice at the Priestfield at the weekend - but Mark McCammon is out with a knee complaint.
When Polly Harvey starts singing, of course, the whole tone of the evening changes. The bass during "Dress" is heavy enough to shake your ribcage in its casing, and the rest of the performance is no less monumental... she is awesome during "Man-Size", frantic during "50 Foot Queenie", terrifying during "Rid of Me". Where does that voice come from?
It's several years since I've been to a gig, and several years more since I've really enjoyed one like this one a week ago. Like waking up, like the blood slowly beginning to pump around your system again, and eventually coarsing at breakneck speed. Utterly fantastic.
Anyone remember what winning feels like?