What Has Happened To Millwall’s Home Form?

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.

Not anymore!

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?

  1. 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.
  1. 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.

 

  1. 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….

Follow me on Twitter at @IAmTheLitch

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A Summer Of Change

Well…. It’s never easy being a Millwall fan, is it?

The 4th of May saw over a thousand of us travel up to Derbyshire – Pride Park to be exact – to watch the boys hopefully seal their nPower Championship status for another year. All we had to do was avoid defeat. Although, even if the home side did pick up all three points, a certain set of results would see us safe. And with how the Championship had gone that year, you wouldn’t have bet against it.

The first half seemed to pass us all by, as results started to fly in such as Huddersfield and Barnsley exchanging the lead and Peterborough taking the lead at crystal palace. At no point were Millwall in that dreaded drop zone, but the worry was clearly etched on the faces of every single fan, Kenny Jackett and all the players on the field. Ten minutes from time, Rams substitute and Irish international (how?) Conor Sammon slid the ball past David Forde, giving Derby the lead and beginning to fill the pants of everyone who had travelled up from SE16.

However, just as we all began to ‘look forward’ to life in League One, as at that time results were conspiring against us, news filtered through seconds later that palace had equalised against Peterborough and then took the lead a few minutes after, sealing Millwall’s place in the 2013/14 Championship season, relegating Posh in the process.

‘Next year, we’ll see you again next year’ sung the Lions faithful to the Derby fans who as little as two or three minutes ago had carried on the verbal battle with ‘going down’ – or at least that’s what I think we were singing, my heart jumped out of my mouth and I was genuinely shaking – and the final whistle blew on an incredible season for all.

The post-mortem began soon after – everyone knew change was needed. Talking to a friend walking away from Pride Park, we listed around 12 to 13 players that would not be missed should they have been shown the door over the summer. The biggest talking point of all, however, was that of the manager. Kenny Jackett’s failure to attend the post-match press conference at Pride Park spoke volumes as three days later, with the greatest of reluctance from the board, his resignation was accepted and for the first time in six years, Millwall Football Club was without a boss.

‘One Kenny Jackett’ rang around Pride Park as the Lions scrapped for their Championship lives, but little did we know, Kenny had already made his mind up by then. Reports emerged after his departure that the joke of a home defeat to Blackburn Rovers sparked Jackett’s desire to leave, but John Berylson and the board of directors pleaded with and persuaded him to stay on until the end of the season. You have to think, if KJ did walk straight after the Blackburn game, would we have dropped through the trapdoor into League One?

So, what should have been a summer of change as far as the playing staff went now became a summer of change in the managerial department, too. Sky Sports began to trot out their usual nonsense – Dennis Wise was the favourite, then it was Steve McClaren, Steve Kean….. Owen Coyle and Alex McLeish were also mentioned, but the man charged with taking Millwall to the next level went by the name of ex-West Ham captain Steve Lomas.

Now, we all remember what the board’s stance was after Jackett’s departure – they wanted a Championship manager, someone with proven experience in England’s second tier. How did Steve Lomas fit this description? St Neots Town and St Johnstone aren’t exactly Championship quality, but the club stood firm despite loud protests from all corners of the Millwall faithful.

Were and are people right to oppose the decision? Of course they are. At first, I will admit, I was appalled and shocked by the decision; someone who kissed the badge of our greatest rivals on a weekly basis being the man to take Millwall forward? No chance! Championship proven manager? Nope! The banner on the gates of The Den said it all – Lions fans didn’t want Lomas and they wanted everyone to know.

The new gaffer wasn’t deterred by his haters, though and began life as the boss as pre-season resumed. The exodus began on the playing side of things as Chris Taylor joined Blackburn Rovers (a real shame, I always wanted us to sign him in his Oldham days and was delighted when we did), Steve Mildenhall joined Bristol Rovers and a couple of others were released whilst four youngsters were given new deals. One criticism of Kenny Jackett’s time at Millwall was his reluctance to involve the youth; the fact that the likes of Charlie Penny and Fred Onyedinma are already being pushed through by Lomas maybe shows that the rumours were 100% correct.

To turn the fans around, big signings had to be made. Even a blind man could have noticed that Millwall severely lacked firepower last season; strikers were needed and they were needed in bulk. Again, rumours began to circulate – Steve Morison, Simeon Jackson, names from near and afar were mentioned on the forums, but Morison, a former Millwall man himself, found himself majorly out of favour at Leeds United, having only just arrived at Elland Road six months earlier. A little bit of sweet-talking from Neil Harris and an official offer from Steve Lomas later, Moro re-joined the Lions and arrived in SE16 once again for a season-long loan.

Stephen Bywater signed on the dotted line in an old pals act by Lomas, the former West Ham stopper being drafted in to fill the number two spot vacated by Steve Mildenhall and Maik Taylor, and Lee Martin also joined from Ipswich Town on a one-year deal. The squad was starting to take shape.

Writing this on the night of the Crawley game, it is still clear, however, that more signings are needed. A comfortable 2-0 win against League One opposition on a sweltering hot day does not paper over the cracks – we still need to spend some money and get some more bodies on board, bodies with more quality than what we have now. The second half team today saw the likes of Scott Malone and Dany N’Guessan feature. Whilst both apparently impressed and N’Guessan began to repay his massive debt to all Millwall fans with a goal, when it comes to the nitty gritty of the Championship, they aren’t good enough.

So who should come in? I think the more important question is who should go, firstly. There is still a lot of deadwood in the squad, the duo mentioned above in particular, but they have been given a second chance due to arrival of a new manager. Again, would the likes of Malone, N’Guessan, Josh Wright etc still be here if Jackett had of stayed? As a club with one of, if not the smallest budget in the division, we shouldn’t be shelling out on wages on players that won’t be used.

I can understand the need for a bigger squad – it is a long season and injuries, suspensions etc will take their toll, but for me a smaller squad with more quality packed into it is the way to go. The likes of Morison, Trotter, Henry etc are out there. Perhaps it was just Jackett that was able to make stars out of mediocre players or perhaps there are genuine stars out there?

It’s going to be a long, hard season – we don’t need another season like the last one. Steve Lomas definitely doesn’t need it and neither does John Berylson. Let’s hope we can push on from the fresh start we have been given. A boring mid-table season would do me!

Lastly, I’d like to congratulate Paul Robinson on his testimonial game. Rayo Vallecano are exceptional opponents and will provide a real test just one week before the start of the season. But, the day will belong to Robbo and rightly so. The skipper has given Millwall incredible service in his many years in SE16 and long may it continue. I’m off to find the odds on him scoring the winner….

Taking Stock

Well, it’s been eventful, hasn’t it?

The first international break of the 2013/2014 Sky Bet Championship season has been reached with Millwall Football Club languishing in the bottom three. A paltry two points and three goals have been produced in five Championship matches. New manager Steve Lomas has stuck by his team and their fans despite a baptism of fire only Millwall fans could create. The former West Ham midfielder stepped into the unforgiving cauldron known as The Den fully knowing what to expect – and with no remorse from the Lions faithful, the 1-0 defeat to Yeovil on the opening day saw the abuse rain down on Lomas like a ton of bricks.

However, since that searing hot August day, the ex-Hammer has slowly but surely turned this team around.

Whilst the Lions went down 3-0 at Ipswich and feebly surrendered at home to a yet again awful Huddersfield Town side at The Den a week later, small signs of improvement were starting to show. The likes of Nicky Bailey and Scott McDonald were coming back to full fitness and bodies such as Jermaine Easter and Martyn Woolford – no more than squad players – were proving their worth to the boss.

As the last week of August came to the forefront, three tricky away games lie in front of the Lions and the first international break of the season. A long trip to Hillsborough was first up as Sheffield Wednesday aimed to become the fourth team of the season to stop Millwall from scoring a goal or taking any points home with them. Just five minutes in, the former of those two unwanted records was banished.

Lee Martin’s good work down the left-hand side culminated in his cross being bundled into his own net by Wednesday defender Kamil Zayatte. The Lions were off the mark and confidence began to grow – for all of two minutes. Reda Johnson levelled the scoring, before Jeremy Helan put the home side ahead just after the twenty minute mark. As the clock ticked down, it looked as though that big fat zero would be sticking next to Millwall’s name like mud, but, Richard Chaplow was sent sprawling in the box by the goalscorer Helan. Andy Keogh duly slotted away the penalty and gave the Lions their first point of the season.

We were off the mark. It didn’t matter how, where or why, we were off the mark. The hardest point of the season to get is the first one and Millwall had done it.

An opportunity to progress in the Capital One Cup became somewhat of a hindrance for Steve Lomas and his charges as Nottingham Forest provided the next challenge for Millwall on the road to recovery. Many fringe players such as Jack Smith, Liam Feeney and Scott Malone featured – and impressed – but unfortunately the Lions tasted defeat yet again after Jamaal Lascelles’ extra-time winner. Earlier, Andy Keogh deflected in Liam Feeney’s goal-bound shot to cancel out Matt Derbyshire’s 59th minute opener.

Another man to impress Lomas at the City Ground was left-winger Martyn Woolford. Woolford had stated how he was desperate to start – and score – at Brighton on the following Saturday.

I took in my first trip to the AMEX stadium knowing deep down that we’d probably get a thumping. Brighton will more than likely be gracing the Championship play-offs, or more, come the end of the season and we’d do well to get a point. After a battling draw in Sheffield the previous weekend, another notch on the points table wouldn’t be laughed at, that’s for sure. A point is exactly what we got and we were good value for it, too. In fact, I don’t think most Brighton fans would’ve said it wasn’t deserved had we took all three points back up the M23.

A midfield five of James Henry, Shaun Derry, Nicky Bailey, Richard Chaplow and Martyn Woolford supported the lone striker, Scott McDonald, as the Lions took the game to their counterparts in the early stages. Meanwhile, at the other end, David Forde made a most welcome return between the sticks. The Irish international provided a much more calming influence between the sticks as opposed to his understudy Stephen Bywater. I think the fact that Fordey was drafted straight back into the side at the first sign of fitness spoke volumes – no one was convinced by Bywater whatsoever.

A goalless first half came to an end with the 1,800 Millwall fans applauding their team off the pitch – this was much better, this is what we all wanted to see from a team that on paper has an unbelievable amount of quality. McDonald was giving Brighton’s centre-halves a torrid time, all on his own, Henry and Woolford were getting forward and getting crosses in, the trio of Bailey, Chaplow and Derry in the middle were controlling the game and the back four were as solid as ever, crashing into tackles and cleanly winning the ball, winning the aerial battles etc. Surely that elusive first win wasn’t too far away? Perhaps it was just forty-five minutes away?

Barely ten of those forty-five minutes had passed in the second half before Millwall took a well-earned and well-deserved lead, right in front of the home fans. Good work once again from Scott McDonald saw the ball touched onto Richard Chaplow who in turn slipped a wonderfully weighted ball into the path of Martyn Woolford. The winger side-footed the ball home, giving Millwall their first goal that they had scored (own-goals aside) in open play in the league since Shaun Batt’s vital winner against Watford back in April.

It looked as though the three points were climbing the steps onto the Millwall coach. Wave after wave of Albion attack was mopped up with ease by the resolute Lions defence – nothing was getting past them today.

That was, until Alan Dunne received his marching orders fifteen minutes from time. Dunney committed a clumsy challenge on Andrea Orlandi just outside the box and was shown a second yellow card of the game, leaving Millwall without a right-back in the side and without an extra body to defend the Brighton onslaught. (For the record, whilst the second booking was clumsy, the first was ridiculous. Dunne had to jump over the hoardings the collect the ball for a throw-in and just as he hopped back over them and prepared himself to take the throw, the referee decided that he’d taken too long and showed him the yellow card.)

Jimmy Abdou was converted into an emergency right-back, and it was down that side that the home sides’ pressure finally told, agonisingly just a minute from time. Lua-Lua’s cross (what can we do to get rid of this pest? Come on, ideas please) flew right across the box and was thumped home by Leonardo Ulloa. Sadly, the Millwall wall had been knocked down so, so close to the end, as the spoils were shared.

Just as a side note, the AMEX is a lovely, lovely stadium. State of the art, padded seats, extra legroom, etc etc, I could get used to that every week. However, getting away from the ground after the game was nothing short of a shambles. We stood in a queue at Falmer station for around an hour, just to make the five minute journey back to our car at Lewes. With the benefit of hindsight, we probably could have walked there (and back… and there again….) and still got there long before our train did. Speaking to a couple of Brighton fans coming out in the queue, they said that they ‘don’t mind all this, it’s the best option’. You carry on then, mate.

So, where do we go from here? We now have a couple of weeks’ break, probably at the wrong time. After three straight defeats, we were all on our knees praying to the Lord above for a break, but now, now the team is beginning to reach its potential, will a break stop the momentum that has began to grow in SE16?

Next up, we head back to The Den to try and get rid of this awful home record. Derby and Blackpool will provide the opposition as Millwall try to find that first win of the season and a second home win in a whopping nine months. (2013 hasn’t been a great year, has it?).

Hopefully the addition of a fully-fit Steve Morison will constitute a boost to Lomas and his men. Moro will more than likely be over a hernia operation and will hopefully feature against the Rams. With Scott McDonald at full fitness, the likes of Martyn Woolford hitting form, perhaps one or two loan signings and everything beginning to ‘gel’, by the next international break in October, things could and will hopefully look a lot brighter in this corner of South East London.

Just do me a favour, Millwall. My birthday is on the day of the Derby game. Don’t ruin it.

Follow me on Twitter @IAmTheLitch

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

The last time I wrote in here, I opened up with the line ‘well, it’s been eventful, hasn’t it?’

Nothings changed.

I’m sitting here writing this just 48 hours before the QPR game. At the time of writing, manager Steve Lomas is still in a job and still alive and well. The next three games may determine whether that changes or not, as we face the league leaders, then two games against very tough opposition in Reading and Burnley to see off October and kick-start November.

By the time you read this, we’ll just be settling down to watch the final game of that trio as we entertain the Clarets of Burnley. So, here’s my predictions of what will happen – you’re all welcome to laugh or marvel at my predicting powers!

Queens Park Rangers will come to The Den unbeaten in 2013/2014. Harry Redknapp’s side have won eight of their ten games so far, drawing the other two. They have also successfully kept eight consecutive clean-sheets and will be looking for a ninth as they arrive in SE16.A team packed with quality, such as the likes of Julio Cesar, Charlie Austin, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Benoit Assou-Ekotto etc, it would be absolutely criminal if the West London club were not celebrating promotion back to the Premier League come May. Therefore, it will most certainly be a tough test. However, disregarding who the manager is, who is playing etc, the Lions do tend to rise to the big occasions and love a side coming to The Den in good form with an unbeaten record to protect. My prediction: we won’t be able to stop the juggernaut known as QPR, but we will be the first side to score against them in nine games. 1-1 draw.

Reading are a side I have always admired. They play football the right way and have more than deserved their recent success. I’m hoping to make my first ever visit to the Madjeski Stadium on October 26th – hopefully I’ll be a lucky charm. Again, the same as QPR, the Royals have a squad packed full of quality and should be chasing the top two come the end of the season. Should we beat QPR, we may be able to carry some momentum into this game and come away with something, but, as things stand, I can’t see us getting anything. 2-1 defeat.

As far as today’s game (Burnley, if you’re reading this on November 2nd) goes, we should be looking to win our home games, simple as that. Hopefully we have broken the home hoodoo now with the wins over Blackpool and Leeds United. Ideally, having already lost three games at home this season, we should be looking at losing only one or two more at the absolute maximum for the remainder of the season. Sean Dyche’s men will provide an extremely tough test – they always do – and more often than not, his teams leave The Den with all three points. But, we need to keep our home form going and right now, I fancy us to win that one 2-0.

So, there you go. One win, one draw and one defeat. A fair prediction.

As far as the set of games before the last international break goes, they can only be described as Jekyll and Hyde performances.

After opening up with the disastrous defeat to Derby County on September 14th (which, for those of you that remember, was my birthday – that was a great day (!)), we bounced back in emphatic fashion with the victory over Blackpool just three days later. In what was the best performance at The Den in 2013 by far, the Lions overturned a one-goal deficit and stormed to a well-deserved 3-1 victory. More stupid mistakes in the defence, this time from Mark Beevers, made us all think we were in for yet another home drubbing. But, Liam Trotter’s penalty on the stroke of half-time was the turning point in the match and probably Millwall’s biggest moment of the season so far. Had Trotter not gone on to slot the penalty home, things may have taken a turn for the worse, especially off the back of the Derby defeat. But, we really took the game to Blackpool in the second half and two spectacular goals in two minutes from Nicky Bailey and Steve Morison later, we had our first victory of the season and only a third league win at The Den in 2013.

This was followed up by our annual win at The Valley as we dispatched Charlton Athletic live on Sky. The Lions turned in a thoroughly professional performance as the Addicks hardly saw the whites of David Forde’s goal all afternoon. As a side note, was I the only one who got this response from Charlton supporting friends – ‘yeah, we were shit but you weren’t much better.’ Just me? I doubt it. The performance at The Valley was not spectacular by any means but it was light years ahead from what we had seen at the very beginning of the season. Players like Steve Morison, Martyn Waghorn and Scott Malone were showing what they were capable of, whilst the usual heads such as Mark Beevers, Jimmy Abdou and Paul Robinson played their usual game. I honestly thought that was Charlton’s best chance to beat us; I was convinced they would, they are so overdue a win against us, but perhaps it’ll never happen? We can only hope.

There was no rest for the wicked as Leeds United were next up to enter the Lions’ Den. Back-to-back home wins were achieved for the first time in god-knows how long as Martyn Woolford and Scott Malone secured a 2-0 win for Steve Lomas’ men. As per usual, the mighty Leeds’ bottle went as soon as they stepped out onto the turf. It does make me laugh how they get so wound up by little old Millwall – they once competed in the Champions League Semi-Finals, don’t you know? Not so mighty any more.

After three straight wins, the worst possible game for the fixture list to throw up was a trip to St Andrews, Birmingham. Having not won there since about 1578, the charge towards mid-table mediocrity was about to hit the buffers. Or was it? Could we have finally turned the corner and string a fourth straight win together? Er, no. The Blues destroyed us by four goals to nil and if not for David Forde’s gloves, it would have been five. Alan Dunne conceded a penalty that was so far outside the box, it might as well have happened back in London, but Forde got his hands to Jesse Lingard’s spot-kick. But, Birmingham are a bogey side, right? Bournemouth on Saturday, we’ll get back to winning ways then, surely….

It looked like we were going to, too. Ten minutes in at Dean Court, myself and the other 1,300 travelling fans, as well as the players, couldn’t believe their luck as the away side raced into a 2-0 lead through a pair of sublime finishes from Martyn Waghorn and Liam Trotter. Bournemouth were shell-shocked; without a doubt, there was a 5 or 6-0 away win on the cards here. Millwall were playing some lovely football, carving the Cherries open with the most ultimate ease. All we had to do was continue on the way we were going and this would be easy…. hold on, why have we gone to a 10-0-1 formation all of a sudden? Oh, they’ve scored. Now they’re level. And they’re ahead. Oh great, Lewis Grabban makes it 4. Five?! To say we threw the match away is an understatement.

I have never seen a Millwall side collapse so badly in eighteen years of watching them home and away. After going 2-0 up after just ten minutes, the Lions seemed content with defending that lead for the remaining eighty and sat back, leaving just goal-scorer Martyn Waghorn up front. Every time we won the ball, it was lumped up to the loanee, who more than often won it, but had no one to lay it off to and therefore lost it, allowing Bournemouth to mount another attack. There seemed to be no sign of the Lions coming forward and on the stroke of half-time, they allowed their opponents a way back into the game. Within ten minutes of the second-half, we found ourselves 4-2 down and a man down, Alan Dunne receiving his marching orders for a handball that only the referee (surprise) could see.

Lewis Grabban slotted away the resulting penalty and subsequently decided to run over and goad the Millwall fans. I don’t condone coin-throwing at all, so that was rightly condemned, but where is the punishment for Grabban? We all know from his time here what he is like, Michael Calvin’s book, Family, states what he is like, but as per usual, it’s all Millwall’s fault. As far as the referee goes, when is someone outside of the club going to realise how bias these people are against us? I’m still waiting for an explanation on Scott Malone’s booking. Bizarre.

I walked out of Dean Court extremely despondent. After taking one huge step forward with the three consecutive wins over Blackpool, Charlton and Leeds, we then took two even bigger steps back with the defeats to Birmingham and Bournemouth. Technically speaking, we are pretty much back where we started. We now face another small batch of games before the next international break in November (which, by the time you read this, we’ll be very close to.) The main aim is obviously to pick up as many points as possible, but a large portion of time should be dedicated to making sure we don’t collapse during matches in such a dramatic fashion again. We should also be making sure the defence stays tight. I’d rather win every game 1 or 2-0 than 6-5!

As an aside, I’m currently in the midst of researching a new project (Millwall related) that I’m going to undertake. I can’t give too much away yet, but if it works, it’ll be something special. I’m going to need some of you to help me soon, so please follow me on Twitter @IAmTheLitch for more details.

The Christmas Period

So… Here we are again.

Incredibly, half of the 2013/2014 Sky Bet Championship season has passed. Now, we enter the period of the season that most see as the pivotal point – the turning point, depending on your position in the table – the Christmas period.

After today’s game against Middlesbrough (assuming that you are reading this on December 21st), Millwall will complete fixtures against Watford, Doncaster Rovers and Leicester City before 2014 really kicks into gear. With the games against the Hornets and Rovers being away from home, Steve Lomas and his men will have to be on top of their game to ensure points are brought back to SE16 ahead of the New Years’ Day showdown with the Foxes.

‘Why is the Christmas period so important?’ you may ask. The amount of games in a short space of time make it that way. In eleven days over the festive period, the Lions face four games and therefore have twelve points up for grabs. In a division as tight as the Sky Bet Championship, every point is vital, so four wins in a row could see you rise considerably up the table whilst four defeats could leave you languishing in the relegation zone come January.

But, how have Millwall fared over Christmas in the past? Can we allow ourselves to feel a pang of excitement in anticipation of a fruitful festive period, or will the Grinch make sure our Christmases are spoiled?

The cold, hard truth is that it has been a bit of a mixed bag. As recently as last season, Kenny Jackett’s Millwall side sat on the fringes of the Play-Offs with Christmas approaching. A last-minute defeat to Barnsley started a dismal Den run that was only punctuated by wins over Bristol City and Watford. A week later, champions elect Cardiff City also beat the Lions by the odd goal. The traditional Boxing Day game, this time against Brighton & Hove Albion, was moved forward a week due to potential major travel problems on the day.

Whilst the last campaign was Kenny’s last season in charge, his first one saw Millwall gradually start to move away from the dreaded drop zone. After a barren run lasting over three months, Gary Alexander emphatically opened his Den account with a hat-trick in the 3-0 defeat of Brighton. Three days later, Neil Harris and Ahmet Brkovic were on target as the Lions moved out of the bottom six in League One via a 2-0 win over Crewe Alexandra. Having taken the reins with the club in the bottom four, Jackett began to work his magic and assured Millwall finished the season clear of trouble in 17th place.

The 2009/2010 Play-Off winning season provided somewhat of a spluttering Christmas period for the Lions. After an incredible 4-4 draw at The Valley on a bitterly cold afternoon the week before the big day, league leaders Norwich City eased to a 2-0 Boxing Day win, but Steve Morison and a Pat Baldwin own-goal meant Millwall claimed the three points in the December 28th encounter, finishing the year in ninth place. Of course, a second consecutive trip to Wembley was confirmed in May – one that the Lions captured with both hands, securing promotion to the Championship by virtue of a 1-0 win over Swindon Town in the Play-Off Final.

One of Millwall’s biggest wins in recent times over Christmas came on Boxing Day 2006 as they travelled the short distance across London to Griffin Park, Brentford. In a battle of the basement boys (Willie Donachie’s men sat in 23rd with the West Londoners propping up the table), the away side romped to a 4-1 victory, led by Danish striker Poul Hubertz. A minute hadn’t even passed by the time the Lions went into the lead, as Hubertz punished a bad back-pass to nudge Donachie’s charges in front. That was the way it stayed until half time, but, in the second half, the Dane and Paul Robinson added two more strikes to the lead before Kevin O’Connor reduced the arrears. But, following the Bees being cut down to ten, Darren Byfield finished matters from the penalty spot. That match was followed by the infamous abandonment at Sixfields, Northampton, as the referee decided enough was enough with twenty-two minutes to go. Although the Lions led 1-0, the game was replayed and, surprise, surprise, Northampton won the replay 3-0.

Whilst not the biggest, one of the sweetest Christmas wins for Millwall fans, management and players alike has to be the 1-0 defeat of Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Boxing Day 2003. After Neil Harris scored the only goal in the 17th minute, those present will remember the absolute bombardment of Palace attacks. Wave after wave arrived, but Tony Warner’s goal seemed to be leading a charmed life. Denzil saved a penalty, cleared one off the line and stopped everything in his path. Of course, that season ended with the Lions lining up in the FA Cup Final at the Millennium Stadium against the might of Manchester United. The 22nd May will quite obviously stick in every Millwall fans mind, but any win over Palace is sweet. The 3-0 Den victory in 2001 is a prime example of that.

The Division Two title winning season of 2000/2001 also saw a big Boxing Day victory as Colchester were well and truly stuffed by the rampant Lions. Neil Harris bagged a customary hat-trick with goals from Paul Moody (2) and Paul Ifill completing a 6-1 rout. You could say we scored all seven, as Robbie Ryan turned the ball into his own net for the U’s consolation. A 3-2 home defeat to Notts County rounded off 2000, but the Lions opened the New Year in style with a 4-3 victory at fellow promotion-chasers Reading. Harris, again, netted a hat-trick, sending Mark McGhee’s men into a 4-0 lead. The Royals fought back but couldn’t find the equaliser.

Overall, the Lions tend to do well over the Christmas period – it seems to be their time of the season. But, as stated, there have been a few low points.

With games coming up against tough opponents such as Watford and Leicester, Millwall will do well to keep their positive festive record up to scratch. Add in a game at Doncaster Rovers, who will be fighting for every point to ensure they don’t spend 2014 in a relegation battle and the 2013 Christmas period will prove testing for Steve Lomas and his charges.

But, with the home form becoming more solid (unbeaten in seven before the Middlesbrough game, what’s the betting that changes now I’ve said that), if the dismal away form can be sorted, I fancy that we’ll be sitting closer to the middle of the table than the bottom of it come January 2nd.

A seemingly resurgent Steve Morison is back with a vengeance – along with the majestic Scott McDonald, the Lions possess a deadly threat in front of goal.

Throw in a hopefully comfortable passage through to the Fourth Round of the FA Cup with a victory at Southend and by the next time I talk to you, things could look a lot better.

However, this is Millwall. Enough said.

All Change

It’s been quite a season so far, hasn’t it?

After five and a half years of stability under Kenny Jackett – a period that provided a promotion, two play-off finals, an FA Cup Semi Final and near relegation – the 2013/2014 season has been a bit topsy-turvy for the Lions.

After Steve Lomas was appointed the new manager by John Berylson in the summer, just twenty-two games later, the ex-West Ham captain found himself out the door and sacked. The 4-0 defeat to Watford on Boxing Day was the last straw for Berylson & co, despite Danny Shittu being sent off extremely early on at Vicarage Road.

Previously, the 2-0 defeat to Middlesbrough four days before Christmas made most fans’ minds up regarding the managerial situation. A disgustingly weak and feeble performance was turned in by Lomas’ charges; it was only Middlesbrough being just as bad that stopped the scoreline being bigger. With the game being shown live on Sky Sports, it wasn’t just the 11,000odd inside The Den that saw Millwall publicly humiliated.

As stated above, the 4-0 defeat was the final straw, so it seemed. Danny Shittu was shown a straight red-card early on, leaving the Lions with an uphill task almost from the off – which was made even more difficult by the resulting penalty finding the net for Watford. Despite Lomas taking off Guy Moussi and bringing on Paul Robinson, therefore returning to a back four, the Hornets found their way past the defence three more times, heading home with a bonus Christmas present.

A couple of points on the sacking of Steve Lomas – obviously, he was extremely inexperienced during his time here and that fact shone brightly as time went on. But, in patches, he had us playing some very good football and must be commended for that. For example, the games at home to Blackpool and Leeds were a delight to watch, as were large parts of the away games at Brighton and Reading. Scott Malone’s goal at home to Leeds will without a doubt be in the running for goal of the season come May.

But, on the flip side, most of his tenure just wasn’t good enough. Despite numerous injuries and suspensions, his constant chopping and changing of the side wasn’t welcome – I don’t think he knew his best eleven at any point during his time at The Den. There seemed to be too many senior players, too many voices and not just one or two players taking the lead that the rest would follow.

Had he had five years of experience under his belt before coming to South London, would it have worked? Maybe. But, the cold, hard truth is that he was out of his depth, it didn’t work and the board did the right thing in getting rid.

So, whilst the search for a new manager got under way, Neil Harris and Scott Fitzgerald took charge of the side for the games against Doncaster and Leicester City in the Sky Bet Championship, as well as the FA Cup Round 3 game at Southend United.

A dramatic improvement was noticed at Doncaster as the Lions kept their first clean sheet in a while. Unfortunately, a number of chances at the other end couldn’t be converted and Millwall only travelled back down South with a point, but improvements had been made – that was the pleasing thing.

2014 started with the visit of table-toppers Leicester City. The game finished in a 3-1 defeat, but the effort, commitment and application of Harris and Fitzgerald’s side was good too see. Sadly, Leicester’s clinical finishing was the difference between the two sides; that’s the reason they’re where they are and we’re where we are! Jermaine Easter spurned a golden opportunity to make it 2-2 – fine margins like that are what swing games towards a particular team and result.

The stand-out thing for me since the departure of Lomas was the players listening and reacting to what their manager told them to do. Stories and rumours were rife of what happened during the reign of Steve Lomas, but for me, the actions of the professional footballers at this club in the first half of this season were deplorable and totally unprofessional.

No matter who your manager is, no matter how you feel about him, should you choose not to do your job to the best of your ability, you are fully in my bad books. An example; in your office job, you dislike your boss – alright, most of us do, I know, but still – do you purposely not do your work to spite him? I don’t think so.

The squad has a hell of a lot to answer for. After all, once they cross that white line on a Saturday afternoon or a Tuesday night, they are responsible for getting a result and moving Millwall up the table.

The squad’s lazy attitude was highlighted to the extreme at Roots Hall in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup. Southend exploited every single weakness in the team, rightfully heading home with a 4-1 victory. In fact, if anything, 4-1 was harsh on Southend – they deserved a lot more.

Despite a bog of a pitch, floodlight failure, terrible conditions etc, Millwall did not turn up, Martyn Woolford’s fantastic strike aside. Usually, those kind of games, backs to the wall and all that are our type of match. Not this time, though. We fully deserved everything that we got.

It was clear that a new manager was needed and quick. First, it was the leech, Neil Warnock, wanting a quick pay-day, being our saviour until the end of the season. No thanks, Neil. Then the names of Tony Mowbray, Alex McLeish etc were brought up. But, it was a 33/1 outsider that pipped everyone else to the post.

That man was Ian Holloway.

Whilst being surprised that the ex-Palace man had taken the job, I was also extremely grateful – for our club of our size and stature, in our current predicament, was there anyone better? I don’t think so.

The 50 year-old took to the hot-seat a few days before the trip to Huddersfield Town on January 11th. Within a few days of his reign, you could sense that the tide was turning at The Den. In his interviews, you get the impression instantly that Holloway is a proper manager – no nonsense, hard-hitting and most importantly, in contrast to the Lomas era, what he says goes.

The Lions lost Holloway’s first game in charge in heart-breaking fashion at the John Smith’s Stadium, as record signing Nakhi Wells netted a last-minute winner for the Terriers, leaving the Lions just one place above the dreaded drop-zone, but the effort was there. The new manager’s post-match interview said it all: “We’re bitterly disappointed because I think we deserved at least a point,” he said. “I asked the players before the game to give everything and they did just that. The work rate was incredible. I feel for the players because they were on the floor in the dressing room. It was as good as I’ve seen them on any DVD so far. That sort of effort is the bare minimum I want from them, and I was very encouraged by what I saw today.”

Since then, the Holloway effect has swung into motion, with players being forced to sign up to contracts stating that they will use positive words, the manager publicly shaming the players for their lack of effort and commitment in large parts of the season so far, as well as an intense fitness ‘holiday’ to Portugal being arranged. Speaking to NewsAtDen, Holloway said of the players’ fitness: “I have got some serious work to do. I’ve got nine players who I wouldn’t deem fit to select because of their body fat percentages. I’m not blaming anyone else for that other than the players. They are the ones who have been putting things in their faces. When things are not going well, it’s very easy to get sloppy and muddy the waters as to whose fault that is.”

“It’s all about taking responsibility. There will be nowhere for them to hide in my regime. The chairman has given me total autonomy in terms of raising standards. I don’t think the players helped Steve Lomas at all. It is very convenient to use the West Ham thing and hide behind that. They won’t be able to hide from me. In no uncertain terms, I am their manager and they better do what I say. If they don’t, they won’t be here for much longer – it is as simple as that.”

“I don’t care how long their contracts are, I’m not here to mess about. We have to stay up and then get promoted – I haven’t come here to fail.”

Quite a difference – a refreshing one at that – to some of the things we’ve heard over the last six months, I’m sure you’d agree.

Writing this on the day before the Ipswich game, I feel a sudden urge of confidence. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves; there is a lot to do. The mess that the previous regime and the squad got us into needs to be undone. But, whilst the previous regime has departed, the current squad remain.

It’s now down to them to undo the predicament that they have got themselves into. One thing is almost certain – with Ian Holloway at the helm, things won’t get worse.

It’s about time teams were frightened of coming to play at Millwall again. It’s also about time this squad realised their potential. I think Ian Holloway may just be the man to make those things happen.

As a side note, I’m writing a book on the 2000/2001 season, in which we won the Division Two title. With the help of a few people, I’m looking to get some or most of the players from that season involved – I want it to be like Mike Calvin’s ‘Family’, if you will. A review of the season with some thoughts from players, fans and management from that era thrown in.

I’ve already got some fans involved, but I’d like more. If you’re interested in taking part, then please either contact me on Twitter @IAmTheLitch or by e-mail at mark_litchfield@hotmail.com.

It’d be good to get as many of you involved as possible, so we can all reminisce about what a great season that was.

Cheers!

Season Review – Part Two – September – November 2013

The international break at the beginning of September 2013 gave manager Steve Lomas a chance to assess his squad and make additions. His ‘creative wheeling and dealing’ led to Shaun Derry’s loan from QPR being extended until January, whilst striker Martyn Waghorn was brought in on loan from Leicester City until December 14th. Paul Connolly was also handed a four-month contract after impressing on trial. On the other end of things, Dany N’Guessan got his dream move to Swindon Town, who he stated ‘played like Barcelona’, whilst his former employers ‘played long ball’. Keep dreaming, Dan.

Waghorn was the only glimmer of light in an otherwise dark day at The Den on September 14th, as Millwall surrendered to a 5-1 home defeat by Derby County, with Craig Bryson grabbing a hat-trick.

The Lions were just not at the races all day and Shane Lowry’s sending-off in the second half compounded matters further for Steve Lomas and the 9,000 Millwall fans baying for his blood. To make my birthday (yes, September 14th is my birthday – I’ll never forget that one!) even worse, an idiot ran on the pitch in an attempt to… well, I don’t know, but the name of Millwall was dragged through the mud yet again due to this. A day to forget.

For the first time, the boss took the blame: “You’re always worried – when you’re not winning, it goes without saying that you’re going to be under pressure,” he said. “I’m not deluded enough to think that’s not going to be the case. I am the manager, the buck stops with me – it’s a simple as that. I’m certainly not shirking my responsibility, but what we’ve got to do is stick together – players and staff – and we’ve got a chance to respond on Tuesday against Blackpool.”

The Lions needed to hit back against Paul Ince’s Tangerines’ and hard. They did just that – eventually.

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Morison scored a stunner to give the Lions their first three points of the season against Blackpool…

Six changes were made, which included ‘Millwall’ men Paul Robinson, Jimmy Abdou, Alan Dunne and Liam Trotter starting, as Lomas went back to basics in an attempt to gain his first league win of the season. But, with just 16 minutes on the clock, Mark Beevers’ poor header fell to Tom Ince on the edge of the area, with the manager’s son duly dispatching his shot past a crowd of players into the Millwall net.

In what was probably one of the most important kicks of the season looking back, Trotter hauled the Lions level on the stroke of half-time, slotting his penalty past ‘Pool ‘keeper Matt Gilks after Isaiah Osbourne handled in the area.

What followed was a fantastic second-half performance from a proper Millwall team, with two goals in under 90 seconds sealing the first three points of the season, through goals by Nicky Bailey and Steve Morison. The Lions were off the mark – just in time for the South London derby showdown with Charlton.

It took a deflected strike from Scott McDonald to give the Lions their second straight win and their first away success of the season, but a resolute performance from the away sides back-line ensured that the Addicks never looked like scoring on a nervy afternoon at The Valley.

The manager dedicated the win to the 2,858 travelling supporters: “After the win and performance on Tuesday, we did not want to let that go. We had great support again and the fans were fully behind us. Like I said to the lads in midweek, when you produce that level of commitment and effort and desire, these are knowledgeable fans, they will appreciate it. You might not win every week but when they know you have pride in the shirt, and if you give everything on that pitch, they will back you win, lose or draw. You play football for the fans, and for you families as well, but ultimately you play for the fans. They get that appreciation and I felt the fans were well rewarded today.”

Just as things looked to be getting better in SE16, news of Mark Beevers’ knee ligament injury filtered through. Having produced his best performance in the blue of Millwall at The Valley, Beevers was now looking at six weeks out of action – a real blow to the momentum that was beginning to build in the camp.

As September drew to a close, the rumour mill continued to turn as Liam Feeney completed a loan move to Bolton Wanderers on loan, whilst James Henry became disillusioned with life at Millwall, causing new Wolves manager Kenny Jackett to enquire about the wingers’ services.

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James Henry linked up with ex-Millwall boss Kenny Jackett at Molineux

Scott Malone made a name for himself in the 2-0 win over Leeds United on September 28th. In as cover for the suspended Shane Lowry, Malone started and finished a wonderful team move to hand the Lions their third straight win and second consecutive clean sheet. Martyn Woolford struck eleven minutes previously to send our rivals back up North with nothing again.

James Henry completed his loan move to Wolves as October began with a trip to Birmingham and an attempt to make it four straight wins. However, in typical Millwall fashion, the Blues romped to a 4-0 home win – their final home league win of the season. After the high of a trio of wins, two against rivals Charlton and Leeds, Steve Lomas’ best period as Millwall manager had screeched back down the Earth with a large bump.

October 5th saw the most bizarre game of the season take place. On a surprisingly warm day in Bournemouth, the Lions raced into a 2-0 lead after just ten minutes through Martyn Waghorn and Liam Trotter. The Cherries looked like they were still in the changing rooms and the game was there for the taking. Yet, inexplicably, with eighty minutes still to play, the away side formed a 10-0-1 formation and sat back, inviting Bournemouth to come at them. Come at them, they did, as Eddie Howe’s men got one back… then levelled proceedings… before nudging ahead early in the second-half… then made it four from the spot as Alan Dunne saw red for the second time in the season for handball… before a second penalty gave the home side a 5-2 win in the final minute.

It is hard to explain why Millwall went so defensive after just ten minutes. Do you lay the blame at the door of the manager? Is he the one that wanted to sit on a 2-0 lead with over three quarters of the game still to play? Or do you blame the players? The ones who as professional footballers should have seen that the game was there for the taking? Either way, it was an embarrassing afternoon to be a supporter of the Lions and it was also the afternoon in which the chant of ‘Lomas Out’ was first heard.

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The pressure grew and grew on Steve Lomas as Bournemouth inflicted an embarrassing 5-2 defeat on his side at the Goldsands Stadium…

Speaking to NewsAtDen, Lomas believed that he ‘needed time to energise’ the club, but the calls for his head grew larger and larger as QPR came calling on October 19th. A defeat here and surely time was up for the ex-West Ham man?

Luckily for the manager, the spotlight was taken off of him by a last-gasp Jermaine Easter equaliser – and opposition manager Harry Redknapp, who played his part in the goal by taking the ball square in the face as Millwall looked to mount an attack in the dying embers. A draw was a fair result; the Lions matched their counterparts for large parts of the game and didn’t deserve to lose.

Another last-minute equaliser at the Madejski Stadium a week later gave Millwall another point against Reading, through an injury-time penalty by Liam Trotter. However, this was a game that the Lions should have won – they were the better side for long periods against the Royals, even after Jimmy Abdou’s sending-off meant the away side had to deal with being a man down for the final ten minutes or so. The sweetest part of the day was shutting up the home fans to the right of us – quite possibly the most embarrassing set of fans I’ve ever seen. Those that were there will know.

Liam Feeney was recalled before the trip to the Madejski, whilst Karleigh Osborne made the switch to Ashton Gate and Bristol City shortly after the tie. November begun with the third of three matches against promotion candidates, with leaders Burnley coming to The Den.

Again, the Lions matched their lofty opponents, but this time, it was the away side that salvaged something from a losing position. A sublime volley from Scott McDonald gave Millwall the lead, with Danny Shittu’s deflected effort doubling their advantage, but the deadly duo of Danny Ings and Sam Vokes combined to get Sean Dyche’s men back in the game, with an unfortunate Shane Lowry own goal handing Burnley a point.

After the Birmingham and Bournemouth catastrophes, the three games after had proven the quality in Millwall’s squad. The team was more than capable of competing in the Championship – so why were we not seeing that week in, week out?

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An actual photo of Justin Hoyte in a Millwall shirt. Honestly, it’s real. He does exist.

The enigma that is Justin Hoyte joined on November 4th; the same day that the good news of the extent of Scott Malone’s injury was revealed – the left-back would be out for weeks, not months, after limping off early on during the clash with Burnley.

Mark Beevers returned in a behind-closed-doors 7-1 friendly win over Gillingham in the run-up to the trip to Bolton on November 9th. Jermaine Easter’s equaliser cancelled out Wanderers’ opener, but goals from Jermaine Beckford and Andre Moritz ended the Lions’ three-match unbeaten run and heaped pressure on Steve Lomas again. The manager criticised referee Graham Scott for failing to stop the game in the build-up to Bolton’s opening goal for Nicky Bailey, who lay prone on the ground with a head injury.

Welcome to Millwall, Steve.

Guy Moussi was added to the squad for the Christmas/New Year period, as November finished with a tight 1-0 victory over fellow relegation candidates Barnsley on ‘Heroes In White’ day at The Den. Scott Wiseman’s own goal gave the Lions a precious three points in their bid to avoid the drop, but a week later, champions-elect Leicester City punished the Lions, with three of their thirty shots on goal finding their way past David Forde with no reply.

Millwall sat one place and five points above the drop-zone on December 1st. In twenty-six days time, they’d be looking for a new manager.

PART THREE: https://marklitchfieldblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/02/season-review-part-three-december-2013-february-2014/