The Den. The most fearsome ground in British football. Three identical sides of pure evil, hatred and vitriol spurted from the mouths of the Millwall faithful, the Millwall family. The place where no team wants to come, no man wants to take a wrong turn and find himself inside. Walk down Zampa Road at your peril, opposition fan. Step onto the Den turf at your peril, opposition player. You are not welcome and you never will be.
Something has happened. The Den used to be all of the above. Now, it’s a place where we may stir a little if there’s a small piece of controversy. Otherwise, it’s a place where we go to watch our boys feebly surrender to near enough every single side that comes to SE16 week after week. So, what’s changed? Why are we so bad at home as opposed to so solid just as little as a couple of years ago?
The 2012/2013 season has seen the Lions lose a whopping nine times on their own patch in the league (as of when I wrote this, the night before the Watford game). Crawley Town also took their place in the next round of the Capital One Cup by defeating Jackett’s men on penalties in August. Ok, we can maybe put that one to the side, but nine home defeats is worrying. The Championship is a very, very unpredictable division; you cannot predict one result from the next. I mean, who would’ve saw Charlton knocking six past Barnsley the other week, nine men or not. Hands up who thought Peterborough United would demolish our very own Millwall by five goals to one at The Den in February? No one. But, regardless of the unpredictability of the division, your home form should more often than not be the basis of your season.
Blackpool, Cardiff City, Brighton and Hove Albion, Barnsley, Burnley, Hull City, Peterborough United, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sheffield Wednesday have all taken the points away with them this season. Thinking back, I can’t remember any of those games making me say ‘we didn’t deserve to lose that.’ But, despite whether we deserved to or not, we did. You don’t get any points in football for not deserving to lose games. Nine defeats were also amassed last season, with only five in our first season back in the Championship and a paltry one in our play-off winning season. That one was to Wycombe Wanderers, who ironically ended that particular season in the relegation zone.
So, what contributing factors are there towards Millwall’s Den demise?
- Us. The fans. Crowds at The Den have dwindled in recent memory. There are of course a number of reasons towards the falling attendances; banning orders, recessions, ticket price increases etc, but for those of us who have continued going week in, week out, could we do more to get behind the team? The slightest misplaced pass is these days greeted with expletives galore and abuse which the players must hear and think ‘why am I bothering?’ I will admit, and it is plain for all to see, when it comes to getting behind your team and egging them on, there is no better than Millwall, but too often players are shot down for the slightest mistake and the weight on their shoulders just gets heavier and heavier.
- Officiating. Come on, you knew it had to come up. What started as little murmurs around the ground have now become full blown excuses for any games that we may lose. And with my biased hat on, I think we have every reason to feel aggrieved. There have been some exceedingly dodgy decisions in the last few years at The Den, decisions which have no doubt sapped all the energy and confidence out of the team, management and fans. A prime example is the Southampton home game last season, March 2012. The Lions dug deep to turn the game on its head after Ricky Lambert’s opener, but a suspicious penalty decision by referee Fred Graham let the Saints back in the game five minutes from time and we all know what happened from there. Steve Tanner against Sheffield Wednesday, Kevin Friend against Oldham and Clive Penton against Coventry City are a few that immediately spring to mind. I’m sure you’ll think of more as you sit there and read this. We do seem to get our fair share of idiots at Millwall, wanting to make a name for themselves.
- The formation. I love Kenny Jackett, the man is the best manager by a country mile that I have seen in almost two decades of watching Millwall, but in the last season or so, it has come to my attention that he does like to match the opposition’s formation, whether it be 4-5-1, 5-4-1 or anything other than 4-4-2. As the home side, why are we doing this? An example with regards to this season is the home game with Hull City. Ok, Mark Beevers monumentally ballsed up and gave the Tigers a first minute lead that they held onto for the entire game, but Jackett matched Hull’s five man midfield instead of taking the game by the scruff of the neck. As the home side, there is no way on God’s green Earth that we should have to accommodate the away side. We are the home side, we should force the issue, play the formation that we want to play. I am firmly of the belief that the way to win home games is to play the standard 4-4-2 with two wingers and two strikers. Ok, our striking situation this season is like no other ever seen, but we have two wingers perfectly capable of providing in James Henry and Chris Taylor.
I’m sure half of you will agree whilst the other half will think I’m talking total bollocks, but that’s the beauty of it. We all have our own opinions. Hopefully we can limp across the line this season, have a clearout in the summer, replace the outgoing party with some incoming quality and give it a go next season. I think the likes of Mildenhall, M. Taylor, Racon, Batt, N’Guessan, Wright, Feeney and Malone will be shown the door with the loans of Tyson, Hulse (please God), Savile and Adam Smith coming to an end. That should free up a lot of wages and with Kenny’s nous and knowledge of the transfer market, it should give him a hell of a lot to work with. There are more Chris Woods’ out there!
I think Jermaine Easter, Sean St Ledger and injury permitting, Richard Chaplow could be seen in Millwall colours next season – the trio would be good additions, in my opinion.
We’ve had a good season judging on Millwall standards. Ok, we may have made the play-offs and possibly more should we have signed Chris Wood, Harry Kane etc and kept the pre-Christmas morale and form going, but to finish mid-table (I assume we will, as I’ve stated this is being written while we’ve still got a few games to go!) and reach an FA Cup Semi Final constitutes a good season for me. We will more than likely never see another Championship season like this one so I think we have done well to keep the pace with everyone else.
All that’s left for me to say is have a great summer; I’ll see you next season, hopefully still in the Championship….
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