Millwall 1 Watford 0 (29/01/2017) 30/01/2017Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
1- I was reminded once again today of the trite 6-0-6 throwaway, “fans just want to watch their team win“. As previously discussed, this is fundamentally incorrect. Fans want to watch their team win, yes. They don’t just want to watch their team win. Fans, largely, want to watch their team. This is taken for granted, but as such is far weightier a concern than the triviality of victory, at least for active supporters who attend games. A relief, then, to learn of Lewisham Council’s retreat from a threatened compulsory purchase order of, amongst other things, the New Den site under the auspices of a questionable (and, consequently, questioned) property deal. Whether or not the very future of Millwall was threatened its location – being dumped out in Kent a real possibility – certainly was and as such that taken-for-granted bit was in danger of being whisked away. And yes, sure, as we saw today the Lions have above their quota of the sort of buffoon whose xenophobia, boorishness and ignorance recent world developments seem to legitimise… but they’re also a club rooted in their community. Good that they’ve seen this off. This is relevant, I’m coming back to it, promise…
2- Pete came to the game today. He’s not a big football fan, interested enough to ask reasonably informed, polite questions about the ‘orns progress at work but little more. When he asked what I thought of the cup draw I invited him along. I’ve since apologised, naturally.
We’d discussed on the train down the possibility that something like this would happen, on this weekend with so much of This Sort Of Thing going on. What with Millwall already having dumped one top flight side out who thought they could get away with anything less than full throttle, with us still clawing a team and any kind of form back together. It was always a possibility, but I don’t think many of us expected it to be quite this bad.
Indeed, if there’s was a positive to be taken from the afternoon it was the knowledge that this would be a straightforward set of thunks with no call or place for balance, perspective or “on-the-other-hand”…
3- Good God this was lamentable, on so many levels. As someone who has spent a sleepless night and a considerable time in the dentist’s chair this week I feel qualified to describe it as a painful experience.
The team selection, first of all. Certain things out of anyone’s immediate control… injuries, suspension, international clearance, and so on. Nonetheless, the relegation of the FA Cup to some sort of irritating sideshow, some trivial inconvenience not worthy of proper attention is repulsive and cowardly. It’s not something that Watford are guilty of in isolation, it’s a negligence that many clubs share and not just in the top flight. It’s easy to cite the money tied up in League status, “this has to be the priority”. Had we played our strongest team and picked up an injury, or sapped legs further, questions would have been asked.
But for me, this is a side that needs to remember how to win. There have been contributing factors to our poor form, but now we need to start stringing results together. Bournemouth was cautiously encouraging. We needed to build on that today. A stronger team would have guaranteed nothing, but this was eminently winnable. Had we lost giving it a good go then any failure would have been more forgivable and Arsenal on Tuesday less daunting because there would have been some spirit. Quite apart from the fact that the FA Cup is a prize in its own right, with big guns tumbling we might have had a shot. It’s not like our trophy cabinet is overburdened with such achievements.
4- The first half was a complete bloody fiasco. We know that three at the back can leave you vulnerable, and it can make you potent. Amongst other things it relies up wingbacks pushing up to provide width, and some venom in midfield to provide threat. Here, Brice Dja Djédjé and Brandon Mason were seemingly under instruction to push up to a point and no further… Mason in particular had displayed his eagerness to bomb on and overlap against Burton, so this was no instinctive caution. It resulted in everything coming down the centre through a midfield trio that put in a performance that was comprehensively ineffective. No need to pull out individuals – Watson has barely been permitted to string his laces, Guedioura just back from Africa, Doucouré must wonder whether he’s coming or going. It just didn’t work at all, no energy, no movement, no attempt to address it – all three played the ninety minutes although, and I’m conscious that I’m lapsing into qualifiers here, injuries to Pantilimon and Dja Djédjé limited flexibility.
Pete had welcomed the trip as a vastly more attractive way to spend a Sunday than hanging wardrobe doors, his default option. Can only imagine that Stefano Okaka’s immobile, lazy performance reminded him unhelpfully of his wardrobes… we’ve seen Okaka display a menace and an energy on occasions, terrorising opponents. On others, particularly when he’s receiving it rather than dishing it out, he’s of very little value – though at least he was visibly inept, unlike Jerome Sinclair.
Meanwhile, Millwall were doing what they were scripted to do. Coming at us, hounding us… physical, yes, overphysical sometimes. But this is a cup tie for goodness sake, what do you expect? Any lingering irritation at the Lions’ strong-arm tactics disappeared with Steve Morison’s post-match comments. “If you don’t like it, go home”. Spot on, and fair enough. We didn’t like it. We somehow got to half time at nil-nil regardless, in part due to luck, in part due to an opposing attack that was more bluster than finesse, in part due to some decent defending – good to see Mapps back in the fold, he didn’t let himself down whilst Younès Kaboul was comfortably our standout player, full of welly and decisiveness, the defender we thought we’d signed.
5- In the second half things got better, which as you’ll have gathered isn’t really saying an awful lot. The tempo that was utterly absent from our play in the first half had evidently been a talking point and our passing suddenly had a bit of snappiness, urgency. Nothing dramatic, we hardly took the home side to task but it was something. Meanwhile Dja Djédjé and Mason had finally been given licence to push on… the youngster had a tougher task than against Burton and his inexperience was exposed more than once but he kept at it and was arguably our biggest threat, sending in half a dozen or so worthy crosses in the second period from wide on the left. Okaka wasn’t enough of a target and too easily marshalled… I was reminded of a Wolves supporter (and the accent doesn’t come across in print, so superimpose that…) describing new signing Robert Taylor’s aerial threat: “When he joomps in the air, ye can’t get a ciggy paper oonderneath him…”.
Nonetheless, we were beginning to dominate, finally. Troy came on to loud hurrahs and now there was some urgency too, a weapon in attack. Let’s not start taking his attitude for granted, dips in form or otherwise. Millwall were looking leggy, I can’t have been the only one thinking we’d gotten away with it – would this be a replay, an unspectacular win at the Vic in ten days after which we put the whole sorry mess behind us much as we did Bristol City three years ago, or would we grab a thoroughly unmerited winner. Neither, as it turned out.
6- We got to the station platform having made it through a hastily constructed police safety cordon just before it was closed. Our relief was short-lived; timing had awarded us the honour of not-quite-squeezing onto the first train and spending the next fifteen minutes – including a futile hunt by staff for the puller of an emergency cord in an unspecified but sardine-rammed carriage – in the cold drizzle on this iconic football-followers’ station. A cup shock, yes, two divisions, yes yes. But Millwall and Watford… not cut from the same cloth, exactly, but certainly used to being stocked at the same class of retailer. Let’s not get above ourselves.
The train northwards from St Pancras was no better. We missed a quick one, so caught a stopper. It being Sunday, when nobody travels, there was engineering’n’that and limited trains. So all those people who don’t travel on a Sunday were rammed into this one. When we got to West Hampstead, the passengers on the preceding train – the fast one, it’s windscreen having been smashed in the interim – joined us, often indelicately. A fitting end to the day.
Pete, surprisingly, declared himself satisfied with a good day out despite everything. He’s a lifer, natch. Which takes me back to my original point. Watching football, watching your team, is a good thing. Shouldn’t be taken for granted, not by anyone. Not us, not the players, not the manager… who’s bizarre post-match assessment echoed his countryman, Gianluca Vialli, in their surprising perspective.
Arsenal, on Tuesday, looks ugly. The players we’ve signed look decent – Cleverley a great fit, Zaraté and Niang apparently offering some much-needed magic dust. But we’re going to need to see an awful lot more than this.