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Weary and Dreary: Millwall Report
By: Tony Butcher
A WARM, slightly humid, clear day in the land of the jellied eel. A surreal atmosphere enveloped the ground. Was there anybody out there? No sounds, no sight of man or beast, just a vista of vast swathes of blue plastic greeting the massed ranks of the Town support, which numbered just over 100.
Millwall 2 Grimsby Town 0
31 Aug 2002, Nationwide League Division 1
The players warmed up to the booming sound of the Millwall club TV channel. And it echoed -oed-oed-oed around the concrete jungle.
Town players did their jiggy, ziggy-zaggy cone run, with little enthusiasm, before the usual kick-a-bout. Outside in the cold distance, the Millwall goalkeeper was espied dropping every shot that was directed at his body. Aha! A potential weakness. But no-one from Town was watching. Townâ€™s new junior â€˜keeper at least looked the part, tall and able to kick straight. He also managed to catch the ball occasionally, which is always a good thing in a â€˜keeper. The shooting practise was very promising, all the Town strikers managed to hit the net, with Robinson displaying power and accuracy. Absolutely lethal he was.
Town lined up in a 4-5-1 formation, as shown. The return of Pouton was the source of a brief "huzzah!", the dropping of Cook a short "huh-huh?". Pouton seemed to line up on the right hand side of midfield, with Groves anchoring in front of the back four. This is only a summation, as the players interchanged positions frequently; also known as wandering around aimlessly, I suppose.
Millwall kicked off towards the Town supporters (towards the left as seen on TV) and within a minute had *scored*. The ball was lumped up front, Ford, five yards outside the area in the centre, was fouled by Ifill and so only half cleared. The ball was tipped back over the top to Harris, who slashed a right foot shot right through the dull gold shirted Coyne. "Sit down, sit down, oh sit down", as they played on the tannoy before the game, it was miles off side. We cheered the linesman for his failure to be intimidated by the dozen Millwall fans behind his right shoulder. A minute later another correct offside decision in Townâ€™s favour. Excellent, no problems there then.
The next five or six minutes were comfortable, pleasant and mainly Town. Millwall had the ball for several seconds only. There were minor moments of excitement for the travelling Townites. Barnard , about five yards inside the town half just in from the left touchline, bent a lovely pass down the wing and around the centre back. Kabba muscled and massaged his way past the defender, barged infield past another, hopped, skipped and jumped across the face of the area. He then played a perfectly weighted 10 yards pass to his imaginary strike partner, sprinted after the ball and nearly reached it before the goalkeeper. A couple of minutes later McDermott played a one-two down the right wing, then another with Groves, who dinked the ball through a small gap between their centre backs and left back. McDermott got to the bye line and flicked a cross through the penalty area towards a Town player. Thatâ€™s as good as these things get, towards a Town player. The ball was cleared relatively comfortably, but hinted at a way through for Town and the shape of things to come. Wrong. Oh how very wrong. The best laid plans of mice and Paul Groves can turn to so much dust in a drought when people do silly things.
After just seven minutes, during which Millwall had huffed a little, puffed a little, but barely troubled the Town midfield, let alone defence, old Steve Chettleâ€™s mind turned to mush. The Town defence were simply knocking the ball about between them, a little lackadaisically, but not under threat. McDermott passed inside to Ford, who tapped it further along the backline to Chettle, about five yards outside the area right on the centre. Chettle nonchalantly wafted his left boot at the ball to pass it back to Coyne. Except ball and boot barely touched and Chettle lost his balance. CLARIDGE suddenly woke up, like a scruffy frog kissed by a princess, and, from 20 yards out, tapped the ball around Coyne into the left hand side of the net.
Did you hear it at home? The sound of a small balloon deflating rapidly. All the Town players stood still, hands on hips, staring at Chettle, who was properly mortified by his error. None offered a consoling thwack on the head, or words of comfort and encouragement. Silence, stunned silence. Apart from the Millwall fans of course. They, and their players, couldnâ€™t believe their luck. We could. It just about summed up the rickety-rockety start to this season. We knew that last year we could rely upon the opponents to miss the presents regularly laid before them like offerings to the gods. Not this year.
Millwall were energised by the goal and played a lot more vigorously and positively. Town players received sterner challenges, were surrounded when in possession and watched as midfielders poured forward to join the strikers. The tactics employed by Millwall were not earth shattering, merely "hit it early to two bustling workhorses and something may fall your way". But Town started to lose the flick-ons, to fail to pick up the runners, all of which led to an uncomfortable ten or fifteen minutes. Balls in the box (what an apt phrase), bodies in the box, but not many chances, just a few crosses and "almost" moments. Thatâ€™s apart from the time they should have scored again. Ifill, about 30 yards out on the right, jumped with Ford when the ball was launched long and high. The ball fell into the space between the heavens and the corner of a foreign field (known as the bit between the defence and midfield) for Harris, who had sneaked into the gap. Unmarked, he controlled the ball, dribbled forward a few yards and, from about 25 yards out just to the right of centre, curled a shot high over and around Coyne.
The ball rebounded off the post and passed Coyne as he ran off towards South Bermondsey station for the late running 15:15 to London Bridge. The rebound went straight to Claridge, unmarked on the penalty spot, who promptly fell over the ball. That was only their second incursion, and it should have been a second goal. A pretty high danger ratio, Iâ€™d say. Town had a shot after 18 minutes, after a decent move down the right. McDermott started it by playing a couple of one-twos, the final one with Groves, who dinked the ball over the top of the defence into the corner. McDermott cut back inside, going across a couple of defenders and the face of the penalty area before hitting a left foot drive a foot or so high and wide of the â€˜keeperâ€™s right hand post. Enough to justify a clap and an "Ooooo".
After 24 minutes Cooke replaced Chettle, with Groves reverting to centre back and Coldicott becoming the Oliver Cromwell of Town. Around this time Coyne was forced to parry a shot from a dozen yards and Groves managed to stamp the ball away from danger after the tricky Ifill had tapped the ball over Gallimore down on the bye line inside the penalty area. And a couple more wayward shots came in from Millwall, not interesting to the casual spectator, nor even their Mums. The middle of the half was very dull, devoid of skill, wit, thought or any other positive words you may wish to ascribe to men receiving cash to play association football. Barnard wasted a couple of free kicks, one, just on the left edge of the Millwall penalty area, where he took it quickly and managed to curl it several feet high and wide of the goal whilst the â€˜keeper yawned and a young boy dropped his packet of salt and vinegar crisps.
Then the officials began to wind up the supporters of both teams. The referee looked kindly upon firm crunches from Millwall, yet kept penalising Pouton for winning the ball. The Millwall fans only had to ask and they got a free kick, which is something they never quite sussed, as on at least two occasions free kicks were awarded precisely because a few Millwallians moaned. Set against that we had the refereeâ€™s 10 minute rule - every ten minutes he booked a Millwall player, presumably because he got bored. And then we had the linesman who kept missing incredibly obvious off sides which caused occasional moments of panic in the Town defence. Fortunately, Ford swept danger away, and Millwall players kept running around in circles.
In the last few minutes of the half Town nearly scored, perhaps should have done. The ball was knocked down the Town left into the Millwall half. Kabba chased, harried, hassled and won the ball. He wriggled inside, outside, inside, outside, across the pitch into the penalty area before laying a pass out to his right. Campbell surged forward and lashed a right foot shot from the edge of the area low across the goalkeeper, who plopped gently upon the ball like an eiderdown upon a dozing six year old. And then it was half time
A dull half, punctuated by fleeting moments of interest. Town were comfortable for seven minutes, which nine out of ten cat owners agree isnâ€™t enough really. The goal came from such a stupendous error that it defies analysis and simply canâ€™t be attributed to the management, the tactics, the formation or anything but Chettleâ€™s brain. The response of the Town players, collectively, was instructive. There wasnâ€™t any. For a period Town were woeful, thrashing, lashing and crashing about in defence. Coyne forgot how to kick, fluffing several clearances. Mostly skied, but one dribbled pathetically up the middle, fortunately straight to Groves about 30 yards out.
Ford, mostly sound, was a mixture of sublime and silly in the same movement. He created a half chance for Millwall when he wonderfully sidestepped, back heeled and shimmed past a couple of attackers when pressurised on the right edge of the Town box. We stood and applauded, we stood and railed as he then tried a trick too many, losing possession and allowing Millwall to cross. Kabba was doing his best to be the stereotypical Crystal Palace forward. Rarely seeming to actually have control of the ball he occasionally caused havoc simply by running quickly near it. One particularly amusing "run" from Kabba saw him surge around 50 yards with the ball down the left, then into the penalty area. At no time did he have the ball under control.
Half time: Millwall 1 Grimsby Town 0
It should have been 0-0 at half time, as both sides were lacking a certain je ne sais quoi around the opponentsâ€™ goal. In such circumstances gifts are welcome by the starving nation of potted ham and the hosts had no reason to fear the geeks in stripes.
Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk
"It was like the Spanish Inquisition, and Iâ€™m not a doctor".
The report continues in the second half.
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