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Millwall 0 Watford 0 (26/01/2021) 27/01/2021

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- When I started writing for this blog’s predecessor, BSaD, I was living in Austria.

A splendid five-month experience.  It was 1997, eight years after the Berlin Wall had come down.  I was 24, living in a beautiful city east of Prague and less than an hour by train from Bratislava which might as well have been Mars.

I was there from June until November, so had a month or two to get my footballing bearings.  Living in Favoriten to the south of the city centre, Austria Vienna were a more natural and convenient destination than Rapid to the west.  My first trip to the Franz Horr Stadion was for an early season game against LASK of Linz.  I stood on the terrace behind the goal and watched as the whole bank barraged Linz’s African centre-back with monkey noises.  Not just a few, everyone.  A little kid sitting on a crash barrier, looking to his Dad for approval.

I don’t like to leave games early.  I started following Rapid, boasting the combustible Cameroonian striker Sammy Ipoua, instead.  Watching Millwall uphold their decision not to take the knee was depressing.  Difficult for them, sure, in the face of vocal objection from some of their fanbase.  But capitulating to that pressure was wrong.  The argument has been made that the continued taking of the knee might be pressurising compliance from players out of some sense of peer pressure rather than conviction.  Good.  It’s not OK to be a racist twat.  It should make you feel awkward and out of place.  That kid sitting on the crash barrier wasn’t born a racist, not even in a little country in the mountains with no colonial history or immigration.

2- Speaking of anachronisms, Millwall’s pitch is right out of 1997… balding, boggy and slippery.  The first fifteen minutes are characterised by slapstick slipping and sliding around by both sides… Kiko makes an early foray by intercepting a lost-footing pass, Kieftenbeld slips over and Nate would be in but he can’t get traction on the mud quickly enough.

It’s the Hornets that get to grips more quickly.  Despite the conditions we manage to occasionally rattle into gear and fire off staccato passages of passing… one of these gets Chalobah in, he squares when in a split second he might have shot albeit from a wide position.  We get a generous free kick when erratic referee Jeremy Simpson allows Sarr to waste an advantage after  a shirt pull and then calls the play back. As with every set piece into Millwall’s box Cleverley’s fine delivery causes mayhem, captain Shaun Hutchinson so focused on hauling down Troy Deeney that he neglects the passage of the ball which finds the post as it bounces off him.  It then wanders its way across the goal line before being cleared, the incident the most plausible candidate for Deeney, Gray and Xisco’s heated discussion with the official at the break.

We ramp it up as we approach half time.  Deeney cushions downwards to Gray and Hughes – one of them has to take it on their weaker foot, Gray’s left beats Hughes’ right and he shovels over.  Cleverley finds Sarr brilliantly, the winger is deft, industrious and encouragingly robust all evening, fine control and a sharp cross here well cut out by Hutchinson.  Two corners, one from either side, then Deeney surges forward to feed Sarr who hesitates before forcing Bialkowski into a tidy but routine stop.  The one he scores in our head by hitting it first time was bloody ace though.  We’re doing well, our best half away from home this season, probably.

3- The goal hasn’t come though, and Millwall’s efforts in the last couple of minutes of the half provoke a flurry of “wake up call” WhatsApp messages across Hertfordshire at the break.  Jake Cooper is at the centre of both and we’re lucky in each instance… firstly when his fine header back across the box comes off the post and considerately avoids his teammate charging in for a tap-in, secondly when he dumps a header through Bachmann from a position that’s given offside but looked marginal enough to have been plausibly missable at best.

In every respect Millwall are as advertised.  Solid, hard-working but limited going forward, relying on the mobility of Wallace to win enough set pieces to give them a puncher’s chance from set pieces.  Tough, too, and none the less so for the recruitment of Maikal Kieftenbeld from Birmingham who, four months into our return to the second tier is already indisputably in the guileless clogger box.  He’s in the book in under half an hour, the first of six yellows in the game and is the target of more than one revenge hack in the second half, a second half which also sees Troy hurl Hutchinson to the floor after more unpunished grappling at a set piece. Our indiscipline is occasionally understandable, but we’re racking up yellow cards.

4- A second half in which the home side claw themselves back into the game and confirm that we kinda blew it by, once again, not quite having the final touch during our periods of dominance in the first .

The zippy passing still happens, but much less often.  The Lions are much more in the game, if never quite threatening to the extent that they did at the end of the first half.  We bring on Zinckernagel and João Pedro for the enthusiastically burned out Cleverley and the asymptotically challenged Gray.  Bold stuff from Xisco away from home, but largely ineffective… the calls for Zinckernagel to start are understandable, his cameos have been fun but he wants too much time and isn’t robust enough for this one, for all that he again shows a couple of neat touches and swaps passes with Hughes neatly on the left flank a couple of times.

After a first half in which we were much the better side but Millwall have the better chances at the death the reverse happens here, kinda.  We come closer, anyway, despite the home side being much more in it.  Sarr slips a ball to Chalobah who hammers a shot at goal;  Bialkowski blocks, Troy neatly scissors an overhead kick low inside the post and the keeper pushes it round.  More sharp passing, Deeney’s drive is blocked.  Any sense of inevitability to our victory left the stadium at half time though.

5- Underwhelming, and not a whole load of exciting.  But four points from two tricky away games isn’t half bad.  The more so when the first three of those points came from a trip to Stoke against a tough, experienced side despite not being in the game for the first half.  That’s the sort of win that gets you promoted.

We’re only fitfully brilliant.  But mostly solid.  We’ve missed the chance to lay down the gauntlet here, that would have been fun with Brentford and Swansea facing off tomorrow.  But 13 points and four clean sheets from Xisco’s first six games will more than do for the time being.

Yooorns.

Bachmann 3, Femenía 3, Masina 3, Troost-Ekong 3, Sierralta 3, *Sarr 4*, Cleverley 4, Chalobah 3. Hughes 3, Deeney 3, Gray 2
Subs:  Zinckernagel (for Cleverley , 63) 2, João Pedro (for Gray, 63) 2, Ngakia, Cathcart, Navarro, Wilmot, Garner, Hungbo, Parkes

Comments»

1. wotfud - 27/01/2021

I’m sure we stand shoulder to shoulder against racism but it is the legitimate view of many that BLM is a racist organisation. It judges people by the colour of their skin. Those of us standing against BLM are the brave ones fighting for equality in a stadium full of people who hate us as a result. I know you disagree, but it is not fair to say those who oppose BLM are racist when we have explained many times that we are not.

AC Luther - 27/01/2021

What’s your rationale for fighting against black lives matter? Curious to hear what this brave stance is based on?

David - 27/01/2021

Mats analogy about the boy being socialised to an abhorrent display is very powerful Wotfud. Surely anything that can be done, however trite, (I’m aware of Les Ferdinand’s concern) is on balance a good thing.I have no idea if the BLM movement is racist but I do shiver when I hear people say that all lives matter, when so much evidence suggests otherwise.

My tweak to the team would include a return for Wilmot who is so much more comfortable on the ball than WTE.

Lozza - 27/01/2021

The challenge is, Wotfud, we don’t know you but generally the more people feel the need to claim not to be racist and demand legitimacy the more people question what your actual motivation is.

No one would hate you for fighting for equality, but standing ‘against’ BLM? Matt didn’t even mention it.

There is a political organization called BLM that may be controversial, but the phrase ‘back lives matter’ has becomes a wider statement against endemic racism in our society. Most people understand taking the knee is in support of the latter.

Black lives matter doesn’t mean other lives don’t matter and to get worked up about that does give an impression of not really understanding the point as Ben Mee has explained previously.

Matt’s horrible story is a reminder of how far we’ve come, but it seems there’s a lot more to do. If you feel it’s brave to challenge that then it’s a free country but you give the impression of swimming against the tide of progress.

Re the football it does feel like the team are coming together and progressing. We’re not going to win them all, but being there or thereabouts going into the business end of the seasons with more to come is promising.

2. Sam in Kenya - 27/01/2021

Nice report Matt – I was thinking that our form could be perfect for play-off territory. 0-0 away from home in first leg 0-1 (Troy penalty) at home. Dull and practical maybe, but efficient and potentially effective. Playing like “a Norwich / Brentford” I think is out of scope for this squad (and manager).

Mark Scholfield - 28/01/2021

I think you are referring to our previous manager Ilic!? Did you know we now have a far more attacking manager who likes to play 442 with at least one winger ( 2 if Sema plays ) ?

3. Dugald Wylie - 27/01/2021

Very good report Matt… as ever. I look for your match reports for several reasons to do with the Hornets but am struck with how well you articulate your thoughts, in many cases through anecdotes. This last report has made me think and I have come to the realisation that you are right in saying the BLM movement “should make us uncomfortable.” The old adage that if you don’t learn from history you are condemned to repeat it, seems apt in this situation.
To. E frivolous, where that thought leaves the Gray/Deeney combo I don’t know.

Matt Rowson - 27/01/2021

Thanks Dugald

to be clear, I wasn’t trying to say that BLM should make folk uncomfortable, but that folk SHOULD be made to feel uncomfortable via peer pressure for not wanting to oppose racism. If That kid might have been fundamentally racist but far more likely was that he wanted to be one of the gang/like his Dad. If the gang/his Dad are saying, en masse, “racism is wrong” then he’s likely to take a different path.

Gray/Deeney. Yeah. I know you’re being frivolous but… if it had been the case that it had NEVER worked, that there was zero chance of it working henceforth AND that we had manifestly better alternatives then I’d take your point. For all that JP looks fun, Perica looks useful… those three boxes aren’t really ticked. Giving up on Gray when people aren’t queuing up to take his contract off our hands would be a little foolish I think.

4. Harefield Hornet - 27/01/2021

Found last nights game extremely frustrating to watch – I’m a bit worried the lack of converting chances could end up costing us eventually. As discussed previously, Gray just needs something to bounce into the net off his knee or backside or anywhere at the moment to restore his confidence. Talk of Vydra returning is mouth-watering but the chance of that seems unlikely – would the old combo with Troy still work ?

5. John Parslow - 28/01/2021

Spot on Matt . Great report and given last nights draw between Brentford and Swansea it’s an important point … as long as we now go on another run of 3 games with wins !


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