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Millwall 1 Watford 0 (16/04/2013) 17/04/2013

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
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1. There are many irritating things about modern football. Among them may well be the frequency with which I use phrases like “there are many irritating things about modern football”. But they’re ever-increasing, as illustrated yesterday by the announcement of a 5.15pm kickoff for an FA Cup Final between two teams from the distant north-west, defended by the FA by describing its flagship occasion as “content”. Go and ruin someone else’s sport, you effing parasites. Um, yeah, where were we? Yes, of the many irritating things about modern football, high on the list is the competition among those with opinions on the game to be first with the definitive statement, the most black and white declaration of final and irrevocable fact.

Were it to happen again, the World Cup would be won not to “they think it’s all over…” but to Alan Green bellowing “IT’S ALL OVER!” at a volume audible on nearby planets. For once in his bloody life, Mark Lawrenson wouldn’t be able to add “NOT!” to the end of the sentence in a humourless, bored monotone, but I’m sure he’d find something tediously facetious to say anyway: “About time (sigh)” or similar. Football has lost its shades of grey, its room for uncertainty…and they were always the most interesting bits, for there’s no tension if you’ve already declared the outcome certain. Without doubt and hope and other grey areas, we might as well all stay at home, everything done and decided before it’s started.

Thus, our season was declared over and done with as vociferously as possible by a load of very clever people following Saturday’s defeat, our slide back toward the playoff pack as inevitable as our failure to win the May lottery. But, of course, that was nonsense: nobody would write us off if we were three points behind on the last day, and there was always a significant chance of Hull dropping points before then. Far from hopeless, when you look at it without rushing to judgment. Even less hopeless as the evening unfolded.

2. But for all that I’ve just said, it’s pretty difficult not to rush to judgment in the aftermath of this defeat. It’s pretty difficult not to conclude that this might’ve been the last opportunity.

We spent the evening pressing our noses against the toy shop window and staring at the lights inside until our eyes started to water. We had Millwall on the ropes and wilting under pressure, in front of a sparse home crowd comprised of the few thousand people who hadn’t spent all of their money on semi-final tickets and beer. Then news came through that Wolves had taken the lead over Hull…and it was suddenly all laid out before us, opening up in a great surge of hope and optimism and excitement.

The noise echoed around the away section, renewed belief and expectation. Here was not only the chance to narrow the gap back to a single win, but to re-gain some of our form into the bargain, for the home side afforded us significant space in midfield and struggled to contain the runs of Deeney and Vydra from the off. A goal for the latter, in particular, seemed within our grasp and might prove so vital; there were glimpses of the unplayable Vydra here, just below the nervous, anxious surface. The alternative story of this game, close enough to touch, is one that puts an extra spring into tired strides, one that picks up momentum at the perfect moment, one that puts us right back in the race. Come on and all that.

3. To lose, then, feels absolutely crushing. You’d almost prefer Hull to have won comfortably, in order to spend less time staring at what slipped through our fingers and shattered on the floor. At least there’d have been some consolation in seeing Wolves fall further towards the drop, some greater good emerging from the evening’s events. We left with absolutely nothing.

4. And it almost seems worse that there’s little comparatively to criticise. This was the performance of a team on its last legs, perhaps, but it was spirited and positive and deserving of much more. In truth, there were countless moments which we’d have expected to make more of earlier in the season, back when it all came a little easier than it does now. There were early chances for Deeney, surging into the defensive gaps left by an obviously tired Millwall side; there were shooting opportunities for the fits-and-starts Anya, cutting in from the right; there were scrambles and muddles and bits where we got in each others’ way and bits where defenders just about got in our way; there were chances that Vydra would’ve casually buried before but now, it seems, need a lucky deflection or a goalkeeping cockup to help him on his way again; there was a penalty shout for a flailing arm from Shittu that even I, with my dogmatic hatred of handball appeals, would’ve given.

We didn’t miss a load of clear-cut chances, but we’re not a side that really creates loads of those. That’s not our thing, although it’d make life easier right now. We simply didn’t score in positions and situations where we were scoring freely earlier in the campaign.

In other words, Plan A was perfectly fine. There’s no need for an extravagant tactical post-mortem: we won the game comfortably on points. Which is, I know, meaningless, particularly in the circumstances. For a side that’s scored a billion goals this season, we suddenly look frustrated and a bit frantic in that department, as if the spell has been broken and our magic boots no longer work. At times like these, you need some stock goals to fall back on: somebody who can be relied upon to thump in a header from a corner every so often, somebody who can tuck home a loose end from six yards. The Oliver Bierhoff Solution. We’ve concentrated on loftier things, admirably so. But we seem lost now, unable to force what isn’t coming naturally.

5. And inevitably, our defensive chickens are coming home to roost at the same time. For all that we were dominant here, our tendency to switch off when we sense no immediate danger meant that we afforded Millwall three clear chances to win the match. Twice, once in the first half and again in the second, we let forwards drift in to meet crosses unchallenged, and first Keogh and then Woolford wasted those opportunities. But you can’t get away with that forever. You can’t get away with that if the goals are harder to come by at the other end.

We are perhaps learning what the Championship is all about. And if this season is to end without promotion, there are lessons to take with us into the next attempt: there’s a hard edge to the most successful sides in this division, a certain amount of industrial grit to go along with the style. There are too many careless moments that’ve cost us second place, things that we should be kicking ourselves over when we look back at it all. There are moments when we’ve been daydreaming.

We should’ve saved that for the summer.

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Comments»

1. NRC - 17/04/2013

‘a certain amount of industrial grit to go along with the style’ – the story of the latter end of the season for me. There have been games when we’ve been bullied off the park.

BTW, they may be from up t’North, but North West I fancy, unless Paulo Di Canio has worked some unexpected magic.

Ian Grant - 17/04/2013

Yes, apologies for the geographical error. As I’ve just pointed out on Twitter, I was too tired and depressed to care about geographical detail…so maybe that’s the FA’s excuse too…

2. Jimbohornet - 17/04/2013

We just haven’t been consistent enough to make 2nd place and Hull have slightly edged in front by virtue of some 1-0 wins. With all the worry and uncertaincy over the summer I’m sure we all would have grabbed the playoffs with both hands

3. Harefield Hornet - 17/04/2013

£26.00, 0-1 and the misery of signal failure on the Met Line on the way home. A thouroughly depressing evening all round apart from a few pints before the match in the “Surrey Quays” with a few old Millwall mates. We do need to take the positives from last night though. We seemed to have found the required urgency in the first half, although it’s obviously debatable how much of this was down to a subdued Millwall side. For a player who has been written off as washed out I though Vydra looked OK in the first half particularly – he’ll come good again, lets just hope it’s quickly and in yellow. Troy’s only one thump away from from his next goal. Cassetti will be back on Saturday. Despite the disappointment looking at the league table still fills me with a sense of pride that we’re in 3rd place.

Also a word for Mark Yeates who I thought played well last night.

COYH

Ian Grant - 17/04/2013

Yes, a more detailed report would’ve definitely given some time to Yeates. I thought he was excellent too, energetic and asking lots of questions. (Among those questions: “Why have I frittered away my Watford career until now with listless, tentative nonsense when I can be this good?”)

4. The Great Big O - 17/04/2013

Let me be the first to say Thunk One is awesome.

Of course, another problem when you rush to have the definitive opinion is that, currently, each match throws up a new problem that devalues your previous definitive opinion. Against Posh, we didn’t have the cutting edge to get through a well-organised defence. Against Millwall, in terms of cutting edge, we had Edward Scissorhands in every position – until the time came to put the ball in the net.

This suggests that, whatever the underlying problem is, it’s not going to be an easy diagnosis: we have an ill patient who’s showing different symptoms every time. So Dr Zola doesn’t benefit from people rushing up to him and shouting ‘confinement!’, ‘amputation!’, ‘herbal tea!’.

For a second opinion, of course, he could ask GT for the number of The Man In The Pink Shirt.

5. stu partridge - 17/04/2013

still hurting this morning from that defeat, although i have been cheered by the 4 season old memory of the ‘ in touch with your feminine side’ chant to the idiotic millwall fan on adjoining stand.

was very surprised to see FF on the bench and only introduced so late in the game. he was incredible at peterborough and imo needs to be starting every game.

also a good cameo from Geijo, a real shame we ve seen so little of him this season.

6. James - 17/04/2013

Surely we are suffering what Cardiff have for so many years. Nice pretty football only gets you so far. What gets you promoted is lots of shabby 1-0 wins. Or a huge improvement in performance when it come to the playoff games. Which could work well for us.

NickB - 17/04/2013

Cardiff may have missed out a few times but I can’t recall them playing much pretty football. It’s Dave Jones we’re talking about here.

7. hornetboy84 - 17/04/2013

*sighs*
That is all.
Oh and can this report not be posted in bsad instead?

Ian Grant - 18/04/2013

No, it can’t. That is all. 🙂

8. Simoninoz - 17/04/2013

Points obtained from the 10 games prior to the final 3 before the end of the conventional season in previous playoff years have been:
1999 – 17 points
2006 – 13 points
2008 – 10 points
This year:
2013 – 12 points
Unfortunately I have no idea what this tells us.

NRC - 18/04/2013

Aim to be in prime form? (Maths joke, sorry)

hornetboy84 - 18/04/2013

I got it !

hornetboy84 - 18/04/2013

And that means we need 1 or 5 points from last 3 games …?

SteveG - 18/04/2013

Agree that it’s an important factor.

9. Dave Jackson - 18/04/2013

After watching another thoroughly depressing away match it got me wondering just how good this season has been. Yes, we’re third which is lovely. I’m in the camp of those who think we should have done better with the gifts the lovely Pozzos have given us, added to those we already had such as Deeney, Bond, and Murray. Frustrating team selections travelling ‘orns have witnessed seem too common… at games such as Blackburn (no Vydra, when just starting to look awesome), Bristol City (well documented), and now “resting” an in form FF at the Den. I also find it puzzling how hard it seems to be to accomodate Vydra, Deeney and FF at the same time. Surely the latter can play a role just behind the front two or perhaps drifting in from out wide. We are not so awesome we can frequently afford to leave out our most creative players. Perhaps I’ve chosen my away games badly as I also suffered the trauma and frustration at Wolves and Posh respectively. Maybe I just expect too much, but it seems like a golden opportunity might be slipping through our fingers. Come on boys, let’s stuff Blackburn on Saturday and put a smile back on my grumpy, ungrateful face.

JohnM - 19/04/2013

As much as I have enjoyed the season, I have to agree that the occasional selection (or non-selection) have left me uneasy. I agree with the Deeney, Vydra, FF conundrum—why not play them together? And why was FF not played from the start at Millwall—added to which why was he introduced so late? I know it’s been said before, but I do have the inpression that Zola has difficulty operating outside of his set playing system—he seems to only be willing to change after injury or sending off.
Now I feel like the guy that goes to the party only to sit in the corner, look miserable and spend the evening complaining about the beer tasting like gnats urine. Hold on, thats me—.


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