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Millwall 3 Watford 0 (19/10/2022) 20/10/2022

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- It’s an utter car crash.  Horrific.  

We’re simultaneously peering through our fingers in dread and yet wide-eyed in awe as countless chickens come noisily home to roost.  This isn’t common or garden chaos… it’s all but unprecedented, generation-defining stuff that will be picked over delicately in fascination and disgust in the days, weeks, months, years to come.  This is one of those that you’ll look back on and remember where you were.  You’ll benchmark life events by it.  Podcasts – or whatever they become – will reflect back on it decades from now, heads shaken at the foolishness of time past.

There’s more to come, one suspects.  Maybe it’ll get worse before it gets better.  Either way, the day ends with Quique Sánchez Flores as prime minister, Ignacio Pussetto as Chancellor, Steve Leo Beleck in charge of the Home Office and half of the morning’s cabinet overloading Watford’s (far) right wing.

The repulsive Suella Braverman is a significant absentee.  A missed opportunity for her, perhaps, and a possible future career (if, preferably, at some far off club.  In Rwanda maybe. “APR” might be interested.  Geddit? Stopping now).  Despite an environment where one imagines Ms Braverman’s policies have had some support, she’d be good at finding space in crowded areas.  Even Millwall’s finest would surely give her a wide berth.

2- Oh, shush.  I had to endure this, now I’m reliving it to get this out.  I get to be as self-indulgent as I like.

Millwall’s a great away trip in many ways (football, on this occasion, excepted).  Dead easy from the northern reaches of Bedfordshire – straight down the Thameslink to London Bridge, as much time as can be carved out in the environs of Borough Market before a one-stop hop down to South Bermondsey.  Station right next to the ground and you’re in-and-out.  Couldn’t be easier.

It’s a fairly glum, basic stadium of course (though nearly-neutral Paul, a veteran of visits to the old Den, confesses to still thinking of it as “new” nearly 30 years on) and the locals leave something to be desired.  Even they, however, have lost their USP…  one of Brexit’s many crimes is to legitimise being a wanker, Millwall are no longer anything unusual sadly, except perhaps in degree.  “No one likes us, we don’t care” comes the gleeful boast from our left.  “We don’t actually give a sh!t” yawns the bloke behind me.

Nonetheless.  The booing of the knee is there, from a few of our own muppets as well as from much of the home stands.  The lack of black faces in a South London team of all things kind of inevitable and a bit depressing.  Some self selection going on here on and off the pitch.

We start OK.  Yes, really.  Bright, positive.  Briefly we wonder whether, having once again demonstrated our ability to beat teams that give us space to play we’ll finally overcome a more obstructive opponent.  

Ho hum.

3- Mattie Pollock looks the part.  For all that his Dad was a stocky midfielder of (checks that there internet) 5’10”, Mattie is every inch a centre back.  He has broad shoulders and a huge forehead. His pedigree is good, he had a decent season at Cheltenham by all accounts.  And yet concern at the absence of Craig Cathcart on top of those of Sierralta, Kabasele, Hause is fed not just by the introduction of a relatively untried youngster but of the fact that his first team outings to date – 90-odd minutes spread over Franchise in the League Cup and the Swansea calamity – were characterised by anxiety on the part of the big defender and three goals conceded.

It’s a nothing ball.  A nothing ball from the back, token challenges from Millwall’s forwards but Pollock moves a long way wide to deal and it would have been his to win even if his opponents had been closer to him.  Thump, back where it came from, nothing to see here, move along now.  Except the ball slips off his head, deflected inside, Tom Bradshaw can’t quite believe his luck and bounds onto the loose ball to fire confidently past Bachmann who has no chance at all.

Everything falls apart, instantly.  Pollock’s world visibly caves in on him and he’s a frantic mess for some time; noticeably it’s a good while before anyone – Hassane Kamara as it turns out – puts a hand on his shoulder and gees him up.  But there’s chaos around him also.

Critically, Millwall are a much taller and more powerful side than us;  Pollock is our height and he’s not capable of taking on Jake Cooper.  Bachmann is glued to his line, the home side have towels around the side of the pitch and a prodigious long throw merchant whose loose interpretation of throw in laws – you know, pitch markings, feet on ground and that – is treated with generosity by the officials.  Cooper wins every header, Millwall keep playing the same card and why the hell not when we are so manifestly unable to counter it.  Bradshaw completes a hat-trick shortly after the half-hour and in both cases Cooper has been involved.  In both cases we look like a side with a back four featuring a midfielder at right-back, our fifth and sixth choice centre backs, and the indiscipline and rudderlessness of a Conservative government.

The worst has already happened though.  The manner of the defeat is crushing, the more so because Millwall should arguably have won by a greater margin but everyone has bad days.  Even allowing for the bad (particularly away) days that preceded this one, bad defeats happen and the evening might have been written off as “one of those nights”.  The developments on the quarter hour however are likely to have longer term ramifications.

Our vantage point is ideal (or not, depending) from the revised away seating in the lower tier of the Den’s North Stand.  Imrân Louza stretches to block an attempted right wing cross right in front of us; there is no foul, or contact with the player, or twist or any kind of impact other than ball on left ankle.  The bloke behind me’s repeated refrain of “the ball just hit his ankle” goes through a range of sentiments from dismissive through disbelief to despair.  And yet it’s immediately apparent that something is wrong.  Louza’s exit is prolonged and anguished, and plays out to a charmless soundtrack from the home stands, where being a knobhead is clearly a badge of honour.  Louza’s World Cup and, without being overly dramatic, our season hang in the balance.

4- Nearly-neutral Paul captures the critical detail most concisely.  

“They’re miserable.  This is an unhappy group of people.”

And, like, duh.  We’re three-down at Millwall, and floundering inconsistently in mid-table of a League we expected to do well in.

But it’s more nuanced than that.  This, remember, is a side that looked glorious at times in beating Norwich on Saturday, where did that go?  Surely, whatever our ongoing limitations, the fuel to the fire that should come from beating one of our division’s fancied sides, an opponent that humiliated us in the Premier League not nine months ago, ought to burn a bit longer than that?  It’s not just momentum after all, we know that we have some of the best attacking players in the division.  And the defence is on the creaky side of creaky and our playmaker has just been stretchered off but still.  Still.  No fight?  None at all?

Rob Edwards wasn’t The Problem, then.  At least not the only problem.  Who knew.  But on the assumption that Slav isn’t The Problem either, what is?  

My co-editor, notorious pitchfork-waver and knee-jerker that he is, is voicing his opinions with acid satire over Whatsapp.  “It’s like watching Vialli’s team, just an assortment of nice expensive players who haven’t understood a thing about the division and what it requires”.  Ouch.

I’m not sure that’s all of it either though.  For one thing, the two players removed at the break are the last two who an accusation of lack of bottle, savvy or commitment could reasonably be levelled at.  Neither Hamza Choudhury nor Ken Sema can be faulted in that regard, whatever their technical limitations.  And yet neither has been able to contribute to the first half, for good or ill and utterly uncharacteristically.  Choudhury’s withdrawl is no idle, speculative punt either since it removes the only realistic cover for Pollock in the middle of the defence.

5- In fairness to Mattie Pollock, he gets his shit together and ends the game in Millwall’s penalty box with the sort of thumping header that we could have done with ninety minutes or so earlier; the Lions’ keeper is right behind it, Pollock gets endearingly bolshy with his marker on the way back up again.  It’s way too late of course, but it’s something.

There’s never a prospect of us getting back into it, for all that we dominate the second half possession.  There’s a tentativeness and a lack of energy about our attacking play… we’re knocking the ball around but it all looks terribly hard work, particularly with the unfair contrast between a struggling Kayembe and the magic dust that left on a stretcher in the first half.  Our attacks end with a turn away, or a misplaced pass, or an overeager bad decision from Asprilla or Kalu.  The latter comes closest, hitting the post with a scuffed shot in a penalty box scramble and maybe the game would have changed if that had gone in, but only had it done so twenty minutes earlier.

We have, at least, gotten away with it as far as our immediate environs are concerned.  There is vocal despair and anger and frustration of course, but it’s all quite…. proportional.  A shared experience in misery; none of the red faced vitriol that ought be reserved for, I don’t know, those profiteering from the trashing of a country’s economy to pick a hypothetical example.  Other parts of the stand aren’t so lucky.  

We stick it out, and are rewarded by sympathetic trains on the way home.  Another good evening out marred by the football.

As for Sunday, the best it’s possible to say is that when your expectations are low you’re not going to be disappointed.

Hang in there.

Yoooorns.

Bachmann 1, Gosling 1, Kamara 1, Pollock 1, Troost-Ekong 1, Choudhury 1, Louza NA, Asprilla 2, Sarr 2, Sema 1, Davis 2
Subs: Kayembe (for Louza, 18) 1, João Pedro (for Sema, 45) 2, Kalu (for Choudhury, 45) 2, Bayo (for Davis, 74) 2, Mario Gaspar, Morris, Okoye

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Comments»

1. Harefield Hornet - 20/10/2022

I was there last night with the usual gang
and for the first time I can ever remember left a long time before the final
whistle to drown our sorrows on the journey back to West London. Like you I’m baffled by some of these performances?- I absolutely get the injury crisis and the physicality of the opposition but there’s something else going on here ? Expectations may be low but I’m dreading Sunday already. I fear if the result goes the wrong way for us tensions could boil over and turn ugly. Louza is obviously a huge blow – like you I couldn’t see an impact other than from the ball – so bloody unlucky ?

2. Preston Fingerdyke - 20/10/2022

Hullooo Matt.
Just a quick one to say that this is one of your best pieces yet. Don’t agree with all of it (football-wise at least) but brilliant writing overall. You get better and better.

Matt Rowson - 21/10/2022

Thank you, Sir.

3. Ray Knight - 21/10/2022

Thanks Matt. I think you summed it up beautifully. Like the car crash team, car crash government analogy. Not much else to say, except surely they will turn up on Sunday. If like me you sit in the Family Stand the free Hive-Live pass is looking pretty tempting!

Harefield Hornet - 21/10/2022

Yes I thinking about the poor souls who sit there – not sure whether I could grin and bare it? – it was bad enough running the gauntlet at Blackpool after the stewards and Police forced us out of the other end of the ground past the home end – and Wednesday just gone was no picnic either !

4. Sequel - 21/10/2022

Having played many times in defence for Watford Nalgo back in the 1970’s, at Garston Park and Woodside, I can tell you that it is no fun playing against a giant striker with a howling gale in your face. But then again, I was more of a pillock than a Pollock.

5. Graham - 22/10/2022

I watched the match and it’s worrying that after the fairly short lived anger and frustration I found I couldn’t give a damn (I do really). By chance the day before the Millwall match a lifelong Villa fan and long time friend of mine presented me with a Watford FC programme for the home match against Aston Villa on 13th September 1969. I was interested to read an article entitled “The Second Division Scene” by Tone Pullen. The title was “Going’s Tough – But Don’t Despair”. Here’s just the 1st three paragraphs.

“Disappointing but not desperate. That’s the situation after our 2-1 defeat at Oxford last Saturday after we had held the lead for 46 minutes. It would have been nice to have eased into a comfortable position in mid-table to enable us to build up confidence. However, current circumstances must be faced; but they can be approached with optimism if weighed against the experience of other clubs before us.

Last season, after 10 games, Carlisle were rock bottom with only three points – five behind the 20th club. Then they went 13 games without defeat to find themselves involved in the promotion race! Bury, who eventually went down, made quite a useful start and didn’t appear in any danger at this stage.

So it is ridiculous to start talking of impending relegation. There is a long, long way to go yet. Two victories would not only shoot us well up the table, but also give our lads the tremendous boost they need.”

So right now going’s tough but don’t despair! Maybe a crumb of comfort?


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