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BLIND, STUPID AND DESPERATE
 
05/06: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 28/12/05, 7.45pm
Millwall
versus
Watford
 
No one likes us, we don't care
By Mike Smart

This was my first trip to Millwall. I tried to keep an open mind, up to a point; I didn't wear colours, which is unheard of for me. I want to think that the infamous thugs that are associated with the club are just a small minority that tarnish an otherwise pleasant, friendly club. That the management and staff of the club will do their best to convey a warmth about the place. That the majority of the supporters will be, well, normal supporters.

It took until the time we got off the train at South Bermondsey station to realise that this was going to be no ordinary trip to see a football match. On arrival, the police herd you into what can only be described as a pen, which leads straight to the away end of the ground. Obviously, that is what they have to do, but it's a shame. A football away day should be a day out, a chance to get to know the area a bit (however unpleasant the area Turf Moor, anyone?), but aside from the station and the football ground, I can honestly say that I know no more about the Bermondsey area now than I did last week.

Anyway, I seem to recall that once upon a time, you could go to a football match, give your money to A and go in. Not any more, at least not at The Den. No, this is one of those places where you give your money to A to get a ticket to give to B in order to go in, the end result being unnecessarily long queues and a race against time to get in to see the game. As it turns out, on this occasion it's a race that I win, but others aren't so fortunate. I can only imagine this procedure is in place because B cannot be trusted with the gate money, whereas A has less opportunity to fiddle the system due to the technology surrounding him. In which case, IT'S NOT OUR BLOODY PROBLEM! At least, it shouldn't be, but as ever, it's the supporter that suffers.

So, as we take our seats, we have our first experience of the Millwall stewards. We are sitting on the far right (ahem...) of the stand as you look at it from the pitch, and to our left is some netting covering all but the first seat in the next block. My friend, with a bad right foot, covered in an absurdly over-sized shoe-thingy, sits in said seat, so that he can place his bad foot in the aisle. Instantly, a squadron of three elite stewards rushes up the gangway and tells him he can't sit there, suggesting that he should have bought a ticket for the disabled enclosure. So he has to sit the other side of the gangway, but as his right leg needs to be outstretched (you are following this, right?), he is forced to watch the game sideways on, with his neck twisted ninety degrees. (How is your neck this morning, Lee?)

The game starts, and almost immediately, Kevin Braniff races clear. Not for the last time, the flag comes to our aid. Not for the last time, Braniff demonstrates that it wouldn't have mattered anyway, as he chips a shot miles wide, after the whistle has blown. But this was a warning, and on seven minutes, after the teams traded crosses-straight-to-the-keeper, Tony Craig raced clear of the Hornets' defence, who were rescued by a terrific block by Ben Foster at Craig's feet. A real let-off, but the penalty screams from the gathered, erm, masses perhaps reflected the desperation of Millwall's situation.

On the quarter-hour mark, James Chambers found himself in a superb crossing position, with King, Henderson, Spring and Devlin to aim at. Unfortunately, his superb crossing position was on the left, and Chambers' options in that situation are to cut back onto his right foot, thus giving the full back a chance to intervene, or to attempt a left-foot cross, in the vain hope that some sort of divine intervention will occur, and the cross will (a) get off the ground and (b) clear the first defender. It didn't, it didn't and it didn't, as Chambers chose the left-foot cross option. It occurred to me that persisting with Chambers (who, it's worth pointing out, I rate very highly on the right hand side) in this role is a clear indication of Boothroyd's current feelings about Jordan Stewart as a left-back. Not to mention Sietes....

Soon after this, Matthew Spring got himself booked for pulling down an opponent as Millwall threatened to break. I suspect that Boothroyd will not be too upset by this, as it means he'll miss the Bolton cup game, and no longer has the 'fifth booking' hanging over him. The same is true of Chambers, whose fifth booking came late on in the match. Jay Demerit at left-back for Bolton then, perhaps? (Assuming he's not up front.)

A couple of half-chances presented themselves to Watford: first, a Devlin cross was headed tamely into Doyle's arms by Henderson. Then, a Gavin Mahon throw was flicked on to Devlin, who shot tamely high and wide.

A moment to give Adrian Boothroyd something to think about came on twenty-one minutes. As Barry Cogan crossed, Bruce Dyer managed to pick himself up from the downward curve in his career to superbly flick the ball past Foster, only to see it rebound off the inside of the post and away to safety. The sort of luck that has become Bruce Dyer's trademark, I guess, but the second of three clear-cut chances that Millwall would spurn in the first half.

The third came after crosses from Doyley and McNamee had been turned wide by Spring and over by King. A slip by Dyer caused a bit of confusion in the Watford area, which let in Braniff, six yards out, unchallenged. Mercifully, he put it wide.

Another cross by McNamee who was not having much involvement, but was causing problems whenever he did get the ball and Henderson was unable to wrap his left foot around it at the near post, a goal kick the result. Little Ant picked up an injury in the process, and was clearly struggling.

Barry Cogan was booked five minutes before the break for a very late challenge on Chambers, who stayed down. As play continued, King found some space on the right and played in Gavin Mahon, who dribbled his way into trouble when a shot beckoned. Chambers, who had stayed down, sprang to his feet to make a challenge, and then collapsed to the ground again, drawing the wrath of the Millwall supporters. Which was fair enough. What was not fair enough was the fact that a huge number of supporters stampeded to the front of the stand to make their point, and objects were thrown. The stewards appeared to show little interest. Lee, meanwhile, was still watching the game sideways on.

A word here, then, about the folk of Millwall. I am sure, of course, that there are some decent people who follow Millwall. I am not sure, however, that they are the majority. They all sing 'No-one likes us, we don't care'; I really think they ought to care, just a little bit. The club haven't helped themselves by employing the likes of Dennis Wise and Kevin Muscat; no doubt they are counting the days until Lee Hughes is released. But what's also disappointing is the fact that some of our own supporters appeared to develop a 'When In Rome' mentality. Singing 'You wear fake Burberry' is, to me, quite witty. 'Millwall run from West Ham, da, da, da, da', most emphatically, is not. But then what do I know? After all, I still think players should only lie down on the ground if they have actually hurt themselves.

Chambers, miraculously, recovered. McNamee, crucially in my opinion, did not. Not that his replacement was disappointing at all; Al Bangura went on to have a superb game. But the absence of an outlet (other than Chambers) on the left was, I think, telling as the game went on. It occurred to me that bringing on Bangura for a left-winger is a clear indication of Boothroyd's current feelings about Jordan Stewart in that role!

There was still time in the first half for Watford to create their best opening. Great work on the right by Darius Henderson, who seems to have a great knack of making defenders fall over without actually touching them, created space lots of it and a clever pull back to Mahon presented the captain with a great chance. Mahon, as if to demonstrate why he had been so reluctant to shoot earlier on, stuck it a yard wide of the right hand post. The half ended with King heading a Devlin free kick high and wide, but it was Millwall ahead on points at the break.

Lucky half-time chocolate: None.
Reason: Ah, well, I was looking at my daughter's supply of Christmas chocolate, and she caught me. Sorry, Jessica. Anyway, you don't exactly get a lot of opportunity to peruse the newsagents of Bermondsey in search of lucky half-time chocolate.

The second half began with the ball bouncing in the Millwall penalty area. Matthew Spring was beaten to it at the last moment, but this was an encouraging start. As if to remind us that he was still there and still fairly crap Kevin Braniff then found himself in a good position, but opted to wait for Malky Mackay to relieve him of the ball, rather than have a shot at the vacant top right corner.

Clarke Carlisle had obviously been instructed to push up more, and when Marlon King took a quick free kick on the right, it was not quick enough to prevent Carlisle being in place to flick the ball towards Spring, who was again beaten to the loose ball.

In a somewhat surprising and not unwelcome development, Bruce Dyer was replaced by Ben May. Moments later, the hapless Braniff was replaced by Marvin Williams, a move which seemed to meet approval from the Millwall supporters. Perhaps I've been a bit harsh on Braniff; he certainly found some good positions, and gave our defenders something to think about. I reckon he could be quite a good player, should he learn to pass, dribble and shoot.

May didn't take long to get into the action, firing a long range drive over the bar; Foster, enjoying a good day, had it covered.

On the hour mark, a King run led to a fierce shot, which was deflected. It was time for Watford to take control. Not before Clarke Carlisle found himself on the wrong page of the referee's notebook, though. And it could have been worse. First, the linesman gave a handball decision, the referee (who was much closer) having initially ignored the claims. Millwall fans beseeched the ref to produce a red card, but a yellow was the inevitable outcome. Moments later, May fell over as he ran past Carlisle. At least, that's what Mr. Marriner must have thought, because he waved claims for a free kick (and a certain second yellow) away. I must admit, at first glance, I did get that sinking feeling; I wouldn't be surprised if Carlisle did too.

It was midway through the half when the moment happened, the one that everyone was discussing as we were herded back through the pen, on to South Bermondsey station. A tantalising glimpse at the riches that were available to anyone who would care to put a left-winger on the pitch. Matthew Spring found space on the left, made for the by-line and planted an inch-perfect cross onto Darius Henderson's head, six yards from goal. I think Darius met the ball with the perfect header, and was unlucky that the keeper made a superb save. Either that, or he nodded it straight at Doyle with the rest of the goal gaping. Whatever, the chance was gone, and you couldn't escape the feeling that that was probably that.

Not that we didn't have any more chances. Into the final twenty minutes, and Henderson smacked the ball high and wide from a Marlon King knock-down. The noise level was rising, but time was running out. I stood up, and moved into the gangway to allow someone to pass me. A steward eyed me suspiciously, one hand on his walkie-talkie, the other on his utility belt. "We are Yellow Alert, repeat Yellow Alert. We have a Code 71Z situation. Mobilise forces," the steward probably said. I retook my seat. "Abort mission, repeat abort mission, false alarm. Stand down." Blimey, it must be great fun when Cardiff are in town.

The stewards were already antagonised by the blokes on the row behind us, who insisted on adding percussion to our songs by banging on the back of the stand. Unable to pinpoint the culprit, they found a random bloke and escorted him from the premises. "He'll be held for a bit and cautioned for vandalism of the stuff," was the incisive explanation given to his companions. Matt's selection of thankless tasks came to mind. Millwall stewards surely belong in that list. Looking around the ground, I noticed an advertisement for 'Bermondsey's leading estate agent'; another contender, I guess.

Back to the action, and Devlin released Marlon King on the right. King played a perfect ball across the face of goal. The trouble with King playing a perfect ball across the face of goal is that King is not in the middle to prod it home. Neither, on this occasion, was anyone else, sadly. The Watford assault on the Millwall goal continued, punctuated only by a third Millwall substitution, Mark Phillips (not that one. At least, I assume not...) replacing the injured Marvin Elliot. Marlon King sent a long, low shot inches wide, Doyle beaten. Then, after Chambers' booking for I-don't-know-what, King found himself six yards from goal and took an air shot as he attempted to turn. It looked a good chance from where I was sitting. Alan Dunne was booked for a foul on Henderson, as two points drifted away from Watford. There was just time for one last, tremendous piece of action.

As Watford pressed forward, the ball broke clear for Millwall, with two Lions strikers rampaging forwards, only one Watford defender in tow. Fortunately for us, that one defender was Lloyd Doyley. Equally fortunately, the referee obviously wanted to keep his paperwork to a minimum, for a few seconds later, the forwards were both on the floor, scratching their heads, and Doyley was triumphantly bringing the ball clear (albeit nervously glancing at the referee). The final whistle came as Watford were moving towards the Millwall box. It probably didn't matter, though; we'd been there a number of times before, and always lacked either the final pass or the finish. A point gained or two points lost? Take your pick. We should have won, of course, but then, we should have lost.

As for Millwall, it's easy to see why they're in a mess. They're not the worst side we've encountered this season heck, you'd have to go some to out-do Coventry but they are desperately short on luck, and desperately short on people to put the ball in the back of the net. A more ruthless Watford would have put them to the sword here. Not an ideal situation for a rookie manager to walk into, and not a situation he would have expected to walk into, either, judging by the fact that Colin Lee, in his programme notes, says: "I'm hoping to make some significant signings when the transfer window opens in January...." Oh dear. Well, Colin wasn't expecting it, anyway. My guess is that they'll be relegated, which I'm not sorry about. After all, I don't like them, and they don't care.