Millwall 0 Middlesbrough 2
by Dave Hearn
Trudging around New Cross at 2:30 in the afternoon, in the howling wind and pouring rain, I’d started to have some serious reservations about this one. The sense of excitement that’d been building over the course of the two or three days prior was in grave danger of blowing away and being replaced by a sense of crippling self-doubt; we were cold, ever-so-slightly hungry, we were thirsty, it was too wet for a cigarette, my coat wasn’t waterproof. When we did make our way into the Marquis of Granby, a Millwall supporter stood next to me at the bar and talked of how certain it was we were going batter them because “Millwall never win on telly,” apparently. This was going to be one of those ones where the Boro are 3-0 down at half-time and you contemplate going home early, I thought.
We’d made our way down to The New Den in the driving rain and got settled into our place in the stand. And that’s when I noticed there was no Woodgate, no Leadbitter, no Rhys Williams. Steele and Kamara were also unavailable. That’s half a team missing for a big game at Millwall, a game that, even without these awful conditions, is always going to be something of a war. I mean, let’s be honest about this; the first-half of this one was one of the worst games of football you’re ever likely to see. Two teams incapable of completing even the most basic of tasks, such as passing the ball to a man in the same coloured shirt over a distance of, say, two yards. Instead, both teams concentrated on blasting it up into the air, like we were in competition with each other to see who could play the most stupid long-ball of the half. I lost count of the number of times a centre-half from either side(but particularly Mark Beevers for them) just launched it forwards and straight out for a goal-kick. George Friend was doing it too. It was like watching a bunch of lads larking about in the playground at school, taking turns to see which one of them can get it over the school roof. When we did try and pass it nothing really came off for us; Emnes and Main looked fairly lively, Adomah had a couple of chances to get a run on their left-back but seemed to hesitate and see the chance go begging. The lads were their typical selves really; Whitehead made a good tackle or two but then gave the ball straight back to them, we had a couple of chances to push forwards at pace but turned back and laid the ball off to a full-back before partaking in a spell of knocking it sideways for fun. And then launching it in the general direction of Curtis Main. The local brass band appearing during the half-time interval and belting out a few Christmas classics was a very welcome relief.
Then, completely out of the blue at the start of the second-half, something unexpected happened; we had a shot. A real shot at goal, a shot that hit the target and everything. And not only that but it flew past the outstretched hand of tubby shot-stopper David Forde and nestled in the back of the net via a thwack off the post. Unbelievable! We’d waited all night for a shot and then when we do have one it goes straight in. You couldn’t script it, sometimes. We all celebrated and the players celebrated and Ledesma got booked for taking his shirt off(I think) despite having an almost identical shirt on underneath it. It was complete madness all round at that moment in time. After that we kind of sat back and waited to see what Millwall had to offer but they had absolutely nowt. They didn’t even faff on with it, knock it around between themselves for a while and at least try and look like a football team; they just launched it down the channels and out for goal-kicks and throw-ins, they blasted it in the general direction of McDonald and Morison without giving either of them a real chance of getting on the end of anything and they were slipping and sliding around like Nicky Bailey on a frozen pond. It was truly dire to watch.
We had numerous chances to catch them on the break and score a few more goals but we lacked a bit of composure when and where it mattered. Main almost got his bonce on the end of a flick-on from a corner(he was so frustrated to miss his header that he decided to head the post instead. Twice), Ledesma had a couple of chances to thread something through when we had a man over but made the wrong decision, he even had a chance of chipping the ‘keeper at the death but didn’t execute it properly. Emnes and Adomah caused problems with their pace but we weren’t ruthless with it(much to Marvin’s frustration). Emnes produced some fine moments of exceptional close-control, especially in such poor conditions, but we couldn’t make it count for much. Jacob Butterfield came on and ran about a little bit, which was nice, and Richie Smallwood blazed two efforts way off target. We sealed it at the end, the bitterly cold fag-end of proceedings, when we sent Albert Adomah clean through and he rounded Forde with consummate ease and rolled the ball into an empty net to send the Boro faithful relatively wild. And you’d have to say, despite us being far from vintage, that we deserved the win.
But we are going to face much tougher tests than this one. I’ve seen some awful performances this season; Charlton Athletic, Bolton Wanderers, several Boro performances, but Millwall were in a league of their own when it comes to being absolutely crap. It was a battle we’ve done well to see through to the end and take the points from but I’d be very worried if we hadn’t been able to beat a Millwall side as poor as this one. There were a few genuine plus points for us; Ben Gibson dealt with pretty much everything with the minimum of fuss, Curtis Main worked his backside off and chased anything and everything, Varga did himself no harm at all and has probably guaranteed himself the right-back berth for the next four or five games at least, Richie Smallwood worked incredibly hard, George Friend seemed a bit more solid than usual. But I can’t decorate the truth; it was two pretty poor sides playing pretty poor football in very bad conditions. It just so happened we produced some decent moments and made two of those moments count. Which is all that matters at the end of the day, I suppose, and games like this one are what sums this division up really. We had to grind it out and we did just that.
And that was that. We trudged off in the general direction of South Bermondsey station surrounded by angry Millwall supporters, with most of their annoyance and frustration being aimed in the general direction of manager Steve Lomas. The station looked like India in rush hour, only with more Stone Island jackets, and the atmosphere was one of resignation. Well for them it was, anyway. We were too busy trying to contain our delight by deciding which Vietnamese restaurant to go to. Ah, one last thing would be to say that don’t normally bother with player ratings or man of the match stuff but, in this instance, I’ll finish by presenting an imaginary bottle of champagne to Curtis Main and congratulating him on leading from the front, for never giving up on anything and for giving as good as he got against two pretty agricultural centre-halves there. His attitude rubbed off on the rest of the lads and when you are where we are in the league table it’s things like that that will make a difference for us.
Anyway, onwards and upwards for Burnley…