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05/06: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 25/03/06, 3.00pm
Lion Down
By Matt Rowson

OK. A young manager. Very young. A big share issue (yes, another one), albeit underwritten as a vehicle for external investment. Share-and-leaseback last-resortism to plug holes in the budget with expensive putty. Pre-season tips for relegation. A team boasting plenty of home-grown kids. And a fan being voted onto the board.

Hold on...

Actually the parallels between Watford and the Lions crumble away fairly quickly. David Tuttle is a year younger than Betty and in the fledgling months of his own managerial career, but whilst Betty's appointment was hugely surprising there was nothing half-hearted about it; quite the opposite. No feeling that he'd got the job by default, whatever the bemused reservations. But the situation that Tuttle inherited was much less stable even than the plummeting form that we were enduring a year ago; Dennis Wise had jumped ship at the prospect of what was to come in the summer, Steve Claridge bizarrely breezed in for a month and was gone, Colin Lee reprised his role as the division's fall-back option with the usual consequence until he too left at Christmas and Tuttle, at 33, became the Lions' fourth boss of 2005.

Nor has Tuttle had the freedom to make even modest investments in the transfer market - that Gifton ended up at Brighton rather than Millwall before this week's loan deadline speaks volumes. And even playing with such a weak hand, no groundswell of support or even of sympathy for Tuttle is evident on the messageboards as occasionally suggested turns of form have failed to have any legs. Whilst the Hornets have lost once in the league since the turn of the year (and that with nine men), Millwall have recorded two victories in the same period, and have only one away victory in the League since September. Millwall's leading scorer is Ben May, with seven goals. We have four players past that total, with fifty league goals between them. And of course, with the jolting result on Tuesday night at Elland Road we are very much chasing automatic promotion, whilst the Lions are at the wrong end of the table.

Andy Marshall will be in goal for the Lions... his write-up is similar to that of last Monday's opposing custodian Paul Smith, decent stopper but dreadful on crosses and disconcerting at corners. On loan Birmingham stopper Colin Doyle had a spell in the team earlier in the season as Marshall was injured, including our visit to the New Den. Incidentally the only two sides to keep us out on our travels in the League have been Crewe and the Lions - Chris Eagles' ridiculous effort at Brighton the only goal we've scored away to the current bottom three.

The terminal glumness prevalent amongst the rank and file has quite naturally resulted in football discussion being kept to a bare minimum (even on the official site, which like all PTV offerings has as many adverts posing as articles in its "News" items as it does anything to do with football). So it's kinda difficult to work out who's playing where, or even what formation is being adopted. Enquiries on a Lions board where met with a response suggesting that Tuttle himself wasn't really sure what was going on, so all discussion of formation becomes a bit academic. Perhaps that's all you need to know.

Beyond dispute is that long-serving Matt Lawrence is still knocking about, although it's really not clear whether he's been filling in at right back for on-loan Spurs man Phil "brother of Jerel" Ifil, back in the reserves this week, or as one of three centre-backs alongside another loanee, American Zak Whitbread, and Paul Robinson (not that one). With enthusiastic left back Tony Craig suspended following a ludicrous second red card of the season at Ipswich a fortnight ago, James Vincent has been brought back in on loan from Yeovil's reserves as cover to general bemusement. Mark Phillips is likely to provide defensive back-up on the bench.

Midfield ought to be the Lions' strongest area, but they are suffering from several absences and other individuals failing to live up to expectations... not least Alan Dunne, who I'm guessing is playing on the right; he supposedly saw a move to Charlton collapse in January, and has been sulking ever since. Marvin Elliott is another youngster whose promising career has been stalling... he works hard, but his first touch is poor and his head is between his knees. Dave Livermore, now the team captain, seems to have been at Millwall forever but is only 25; he should play on the left. Messageboard rumours had Livermore heading for Burnley in a loan-switch for Gifton this week, and also Micah Hyde turning down a deal aimed at solving a chronic lack of creativity in the middle of the park. Instead, on-loan Wolves man Colin Cameron makes up the numbers, although the Lions could probably do with Jody Morris getting over his cheekbone injury. Canadian Josh Simpson is also out with a knee problem - and may struggle to renew his work permit - whilst Irish winger Barry Cogan is out of favour.

A number of strikers have been rotated through the attacking positions in a search for goals, but a mooted move for yet another loanee before Thursday's loan deadline appears to have come to nothing (writing at 11pm...). This should leave 6ft Ben May up front; at Leicester on Saturday he partnered the much-travelled Carl Asaba, but he departed on the half hour presumed injured (again). Barry Hayles would probably be the strike-partner of choice, but he's been out for five months with a knee injury and at nearly 34 won't snap back to match fitness. Perhaps the most promising of the young guns, Marvin Williams, has been more effective in employing his pace from the bench, although he might be the best bet of the options available in Asaba's absence. Kevin "Branflake" Braniff has always been a last resort whereas Berry Powel, prolific for Den Bosch in the first half of the season, has vanished without trace after a promising start.

Betty not unreasonably expects Millwall to try to suffocate the game on Saturday, and as ever patience will be required. However we face opposition who seem to be starting the game on the ropes. Three points from this one will be as valuable as any other - but would carry the additional bonus of giving us the opportunity to go second, however temporarily, next Friday.

Bring it on.