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Purple Haze: Millwall Report
By: Tony Butcher
MISTY, misty day with no wind at all in the Stadium of Woe. About 500 Millwallians noisily inhabited the Osmond Stand singing gaily to their green clad team. I couldnâ€™t tell whether they brought along their jellied eels and their glass of beer.
Grimsby Town 2 Millwall 2
17 Nov 2001, Nationwide League Division 1
In a break with routine the pre-match warm-up was led by Cockerill, not those two fitness trainers. It seemed to consist of light jogs between cones, with no embarrassing high steps and camp jumps. Unless they did it very early, to avoid public humiliation.
Hair Alert - Bircham, the Millwall midfielder had Ginola-esque waves and flops. Weâ€™d soon see if he was worth it. The rest of them looked big and strong, and in the case of Claridge, scruffy too. There was a silent confidence in the Town support that "this would be the day". There was some disagreement as to what it would be the day for, exactly.
Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation. Given that formation and those players everyone was where they should be, with Butterfield cemented into the right back spot (which may explain his inability to sprint).
Now hereâ€™s a funny thing - the referee. He wore all black. In other words he played in the same kit as Town, give or take the odd white stripe. Stick he got, oh yes. Didnâ€™t take a blind bit of notice either as, unlike the referee at the Forest game, he decided there was no possible kit clash. His dress code faux pas was not the only reason the crowd indulged in some ref taunting, as you will see.
Millwall kicked off towards the Pontoon and within 30 seconds had carved the Town defence to shreds. The ball was knocked up towards their big centre forward, Sadlier, on the edge of the Town penalty area, who had drifted away from the Town defence a la Sheringham. Sadlier controlled the ball on his chest and dinked a little headed pass between Groves and Chapman. Old man Claridge, who just keeps rolling, peeled away into the space and hit a right foot volley straight at Coyne from about 12 yards out. Eyebrows were raised and knowing looks exchanged in the Pontoon.
Townâ€™s response was comical. A free kick was won by the Reverend Johnny "Fellwell" Rowan, just outside the penalty area on the Town left, about 10 yards from the bye-line. Pouton hit the free kick low to the near post (aka straight to the opposition). He collected the half clearance and completely miss-kicked his shot 25 yards wide. Wahey indeed. Thatâ€™s the Pouton we know.
Millwall failed to be intimidated by this display of marksmanship, and continued to play balls up to their front players, with midfielders quickly supporting. After about 6 minutes the long haired midfield poseur, Bircham, was allowed to float across the penalty area to the left and hit a cross-shot that went a foot wide of Coyneâ€™s right hand post. Fortunately it was not on target as Coyne was unsighted and merely watched the ball wobble wide. A couple of minutes later Town allowed their left winger (or rather Butterfield allowed by retreating in Gallimode) to run 30 or 40 yards down the right, and then, middle. He walloped a shot from 20 yards , centrally place, which went a foot or so over the bar.
Annoyingly, Town were allowing Millwall to dictate the game. Coyne was drop kicking the ball every time he got it and, wow, Allen and Rowan were not winning many headers against the big, brutish and tall centre backs. Ditto 90% of the games this season, eh? But change was afoot - a period of Town pressure. Well, two minutes down the other end counts a pressure this season. Pouton flung himself around and won a cracking tackle on the Town left, about 35 yards from goal. Boulding ran on, had his shot charge down, as did Allen, with the ball eventually squirming out towards Willems. As usual he "topped" his shot, which rolled like a crown green bowl, straight to the Millwall â€˜keeper. There was some minor, ultimately irrelevant attacking from Rowan and Allen just afterwards, which merely placed the ball into their â€˜keepers hands. Not enough to make the Town support stand up in anticipation. And again a couple of minutes later Campbell (remember him?) surged down the right , beat his full back and crossed into the heart of the penalty area. Rowan tried to sweep the ball across the â€˜keeper from somewhere near the penalty spot, but a defender flew across and blocked the shot. There was a scramble, a few raised hopes, then a hoofing clearance.
Town continued to pressurise Millwall, winning a few corners. From one on the left, taken by Pouton, the ball was half cleared with a loopy header, which went to Campbell, about 20 yards out in a central right position. He hit a dipping volley a few feet over the bar. It never looked like it was going in, but the crowd still decided to "oooh", just for the sake of it, I suppose. So 25 minutes gone and Town were slightly in the ascendancy. Even beginning to string some old fashioned passing and movement together. The best move of the match, so far, had been when Town had built steadily across the left, then centre, Pouton spread the ball out to the right. Butterfield played the ball into Allen, on the edge of the penalty area, continued his run and Allen back-heeled the ball back to him. Ah, â€˜tis pity he is flawed, as he miss-controlled the ball when he had a clear sight on goal. Millwall scrambled the ball away from their area. Oh yes, a move from the text book. Think McDermott-Rees-Childs.
The rest of the half was bad for the average Town supporter. Mostly Millwall, with Town barely capable of stringing two passes together. The catalyst for the change was a barely credible miss by Sadlier. Millwall were awarded a free kick about 20 yards out, near the left corner of the Town penalty area. Three of their players stood over the ball, then one wandered away, walking towards the far post, then jogging with his hand raised. Not one Town player took any notice of him. When the free kick was taken, being hit beyond the far post, there were two Millwall players (including the wandering winger) marked only by little Ben Chapman. Thatâ€™s two 6 foot Millwall players and 4 foot 6 inch gentle Ben. Cahill, about 5 yards past the far post and 6 or 7 yards out, headed firmly across goal. Coyne leapt across and parried the ball away as a couple of strikers slid in. The ball arced across goal to Sadlier, about 3 yards out and a couple of yards inside the left hand post. He majestically swept forward and swiped the ball 5 yards high and wide. Sir, are you Pouton in disguise?
Still more near misses at regular intervals. About 5 minutes later Butterfield really made a terrible mess of a clearance. The ball was knocked over the Town defence down the centre right. Butterfield collected the ball facing Coyne, about 25 yards out. He turned slowly, in a huge parabola, straight into the Millwall left winger, who simply skipped down the wing and crossed. Cahill, their Groves-like centre midfielder headed down straight into Coyneâ€™s arms, from about 10 yards out.
Town were not entirely moribund, they just didnâ€™t do anything worth mentioning. A corner or two, a cross or two, a weak long shot or two and that was it. Allen produced the only vaguely memorable moment when he collected a high ball on the Town right, about 35 yards from goal, shimmied past two defenders and miss-hit a shot which dribbled slowly to the keeperâ€™s left. If the goalkeeper had missed the coach and remained in London, it may have gone in.
Last thing that happened - a cross from the Millwall left was dinked into the middle of the penalty area. Claridge, about 8 yards out, just to the right of the penalty spot, back-headed and Coyne superbly tipped the ball over the bar.
Half time: Grimsby Town 0 Millwall 0
They were the goal mouth incidents, the general play was just about mostly Millwall too. They had purpose, organisation and strength. They knew what they were supposed to do and, mostly, did it. Two tricky, fast, strong wingers, two big mobile forwards, midfielders who buzzed around supporting attacks. Defensively they were, well, big. One of the better teams (if not individuals) seen at Blundell Park this season. Town were a little fortunate to be level at half time, yet Townâ€™s performance hadnâ€™t been bad at all. Against competent opposition (not something that can be said about too many in this division) Town had been ok, and much better than in the last two games. The players had mostly stood were they were supposed to, not too many holes appeared in defence, or between the defence and midfield. The strikers had been fitfully dangerous and everyone seemed to be running around. Willems even redeemed some poor passing with three monumental tackles in the last minute of the half, when Millwall players almost broke clear down the Town left, near the penalty area. Campbell and Boulding were sometimes rather absent when Millwall attacked down the flanks. Neither appeared to be sure how far forward, or back, they should stand. They ended neither betwixt nor between, helping no-one but our Cockernee chums. And Pouton - a pre-Christmas treat. A double step-over and 40 yard inch perfect pass. Wondrous, it made the Pontoon purr.
Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk
"Dad, is Ben Chapman really that small?".
The report continues in the second half.
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