Relief and jubilation
Report by Ian Grant
A little luck, a little opposition charity and a lot of sheer desire. At the thirteenth time of asking, we get that elusive victory with an utterly heroic performance against the league leaders. Maybe, just maybe, this is the turning point.
Full credit to Glenn Roeder for making sweeping changes to a side that had looked dreadful in previous matches. He's helped by the return to fitness of Foster, Johnson, Porter and Payne but dropping Craig Ramage is a brave move by a manager under fire. The decision was vindicated by the most intensely committed midfield display of the season.
At last we get to see a genuine centre forward in a yellow shirt. It might only be Paul Wilkinson, older and wiser but still always offside, and there's a temptation to feel disappointed about that, but he played a role in this victory, both as a target man and a decoy for the brilliant Phillips. In truth, it's just a wonderful relief to know that there will be someone hanging around the six-yard box when we go forward. As long as it doesn't exclude other possible signings, I'd happily see Wilko return to the Vic on a permanent basis. It took him less than a minute to get caught offside and have a go at the linesman - welcome back, mate!
We always knew that this wasn't going to be an easy game and so it proved. Millwall dominated from the start, pouring forward down the flanks and testing our defence - only wayward shooting and resolute defending kept us in the game early on. In this respect, the more combative midfield played a crucial part as the first line of defence and Miller was well protected for most of the match.
It all turned our way as the half-hour mark approached. We'd been restricted to occasional counter-attacks - a deflected Porter shot being our closest effort - but, at last, our luck returned. Wilkinson flicked on Miller's kick in the hope of finding Phillips but the ball ran through to Casey Keller. Without any challenge, he fumbled it, the ever-alert Phillips took it off the keeper and walked it into the unguarded net. Cheers, Casey! If an unexpected lead wasn't enough, within a minute of the restart a Millwall striker somehow managed to miss from a yard out, hitting the ball into the ground so that it bounced over the bar.
The Millwall pressure didn't relent and they missed further chances, the closest being an effort that virtually bounced along the goalline before going wide - the referee gave a goalkick but I thought Miller got a fingertip to the ball for a superb save. The lead gave us new confidence, however, and we extended it with a brilliant goal from Phillips - cutting into the box from the left, he saw his chance as two defenders closed in and buried his shot in the corner for a true striker's goal. What continues to impress me about Super Kev is not just that he scores goals but that he scores them in all situations - headers, tap-ins, one-on-ones, solo runs - which demonstrates an immense young talent. All that for ten poxy grand!
Things might have been less nerve-wracking had we not conceded a goal in first half injury time when Kevin Miller allowed Malkin's shot in under his body. It was a bad error but he made up for it later. The Watford fans applauded him off the pitch at half-time in an attempt to lift the keeper's spirits - that was typical of the positive attitude taken by the supporters.
I didn't think we could hang on to our lead and the second half was tense beyond belief. For much of it, we resorted to thumping the ball as far as possible to earn a respite from the constant pressure. Again, Millwall wasted chances, Savage and Dixon shooting wide when well-placed - the latter incident prompted a fierce confrontation between Miller and Payne over the lack of marking at a free kick. To be honest, I'd rather have them fighting with each other than see the lacklustre shambles of recent games - at least it shows they're fired up. Miller pulled off a brilliant stop to block a driven free kick and dealt with a barrage of crosses with confidence - only once did he miss one and then his defence cleared the danger. We also survived a number of penalty appeals, some of which looked mighty close from the other end of the pitch...
We did threaten on the break as Millwall threw men forward - Wilkinson thumped a half-volley just wide after excellent work by Hessenthaler and a Phillips overhead kick bobbled across the goalmouth. But mostly it was all hands to the pump at the back. In this, Steve Palmer was superb - he's been finding his feet lately but, on this evidence, he'll prove to be another bargain buy. He was instrumental in keeping Millwall out, tackling hard in midfield one moment, heading clear in the penalty area the next. He was exceptional but that kind of total commitment typified the team effort. Last week, Tommy Mooney's determination stood out; this week, everyone showed the same will to win.
The tension eased as the game went on and Wilkinson took the ball to the corner flag to waste time (which is the most AGONISING tactic when you're losing, but it's bloody ACE when you're 2-1 up away at the league leaders!). When the final whistle blew, there was relief and jubilation at the away end as the players and fans celebrated a memorable win. We raised the roof in tribute to Super Kev but this was a result earnt by everyone, including the manager.
Deserved result? Oh, sod that! We gave everything and got the reward, now we have to use this as a platform and get ourselves up that table. Every side in this division is going to experience good and bad runs over the course of a season. God knows we've had a seriously bad run, maybe now it's our turn to live it up a bit...
Experience makes the difference
Report by Kate Holmes
After the dreadful performances against Scum and Norwich "live" on TV, most people seem to have written us off as relegation candidates already. Point out that we have been without Colin Foster, Derek Payne, Nigel Gibbs, Gary Penrice and Gary Porter (even I will admit to the fact that we have missed him), and our poor run of results can be explained.
The atmosphere at Millwall was quite strange - most Hornets fans seemed certain we would win, particularly as they had Lavin and we didn't. We also had the return of former goalscoring genius Paul Wilkinson. I hated Wilko when he was at Vicarage Road and even more when he left us, but I felt quite pleased that we had signed him on loan. Whilst he wouldn't be on my shopping list, at least he is better than nothing.
Lavin got a lot of abuse aimed at him, but you really have to question Mick McCarthy's judgement. First he gets Kerry Dixon, the pays stlg 500,000 for a player who is, to put it mildly, crap. That is glorious revenge for selling us Jamie Moralee.
Fos was brought back at the expense of Keith Millen, Porter was at left back, Mooney and Johnno in midfield and Ramage dropped totally. Wilko was put in alongside Super Kev and began where he left off. Offside. Mind you, getting caught offside after 15 seconds is good, even by Wilko's standards, and it wasn't even our kickoff.
The difference between this side and the one that played against Norwich was very obvious. We had some height, and a midfield prepared to fight. Steve Palmer took an early knock, and had to leave the pitch, presumably to get stitches. Even down to ten men we had little trouble containing them.
Considering they were top of the table, their crowd looked more like a Vicarage Road special, with plenty of empty seats on view. The game was pretty even, both sides playing the ball around, with us getting caught offside on numerous occasions - no prizes for guessing who the worst offender was.
About half-way through the first half, Kevin Miller hoofed the ball up-field, and it was headed tamely towards Kasey Keller. I took my eyes off the play, looked back just in time to see Super Kev with the ball, about to stick it into the empty net. It was one of those moments when you are certain it will be disallowed, if only because you cannot believe it has just happened. Watching it on their TV at half-time, Keller just fumbled the ball. Super Kev's reactions were superb, and he deserved to score.
Once we had finished laughing, Lavin came in for more abuse. Thankfully, he played his normal game - crap. His passing and crossing were of the standards we had come to expect from him. This, of course, led to even more abuse.
Millwall did have a close range chance that was put over the bar from about two yards, and another shot that went just wide but Kev in goal was largely untroubled. Fos won everything in the air, and Palmer produced one of his best displays since his debut.
We extended our lead after 35 minutes. Mooney played the ball up to Super Kev who skipped past a couple of defenders before unleashing a shot into the bottom corner of the net. It was an excellent finish, and to think he only cost stlg 10,000. And they bought Lavin for 50 times that. You have to laugh, and believe me we did.
Unfortunately for us, Kevin Miller got in on the act of strange keeping. A harmless looking daisy cutter seemed to go straight through him. The goal came at a very bad time - in about the 4th minute of injury time. Strange, as the only injury had been to Palmer and he was treated off the pitch.
Half-time at Millwall consists of going downstairs to watch the first half highlights. For most of us it gave a chance to see exactly what Keller had done for the first, and how well Super Kev did for the second. I didn't hang around to see theirs.
After conceding a goal so late in the first half, we knew we would be under pressure but for most of it the defence coped easily. They were awarded a highly dodgy free kick on the edge of the area, and knowing how well Rae can hit the ball, we took a lot of time to get the wall right. Some Millwall twat pushed Wilko, which the ref saw as encroachment so he was booked. When the kick was eventually taken, Kevin Miller pulled off an outstanding save, making up for his first half mistake.
Porter got taken off injured and was replaced by Freddie. Millwall played their joker - Dixon. He had a golden opportunity to score but put the ball wide when he should have buried it. The longer the game went on the more confident we began to look. We had a couple of shots, but didn't really create another chance for Super Kev to get his hat-trick.
In the last couple of minutes, Wilko used his experience by taking the ball to the corner flag to relieve the pressure. Millwall just could not get hold of the ball for the last couple of minutes, and the ref didn't overdo the injury time. A much deserved, and much needed, victory. What a difference it makes having experienced players out there - they know how to win. A lot of us seem to have forgotten.