Saturday 5 April – Millwall 1-1 Gills
The rousing seat-of-our-pants victory over Luton saw this game upgraded from an inconsequential and potentially humiliating formality to a squeaky bum relegation six pointer. After a couple of beers in Borough Market, some were even claiming it was a £50m grand slam 24 pointer, a must win fixture of greater importance than anything the Arsenal v Liverpool trilogy could to conjure up.
I had been having second thoughts about an afternoon at the New Den. If we were going to meekly capitulate as we have on so many occasions this season, then I had no desire to witness it in front of the hoardes of frantically mouthy south London retards who wouldn’t be shy in gloating. But attend I did, with a heavy heart despite the renewed spring in our steps, and hundreds more had the same idea. A couple of weeks ago I wouldn’t have imagined more than 500 making this trip, but we all but filled the upper tier and put on a magnificent vocal display, picking up where we’d left off against Lution.
After weeks of juggling, Stimson has finally settled on a side that can do a job for him. We’ve been playing teams at the bottom (though some of them are undoubtedly the form sides in the division, as demonstrated by Port Vale and Bournemouth’s away wins) but there is no doubt that we now have a committed side playing as a unit. There is still a lack of quality, but given that only Bentley, Crofts and Southall have survived of Jepson’s outfield players, the rawness and inexperience is understandable. An out of position Fuller in for Nutter wasn’t ideal, and much of our problems were caused down that flank, but otherwise the team had a much more coherent look. The only new face – or head – was that of the player formerly known as Adam Miller, who has lost all his hair. And worryingly we lost him altogether at half-time, finally succombing to his hernia.
The opening exchanges weren’t encouraging. Millwall roared out of the blocks, created a number of chances and forced Stillie into several of saves of varying complexity, both theatrical and spectacular. The referee was intent on giving absolutely everything to the home side and I feared the worst. But we held firm at the back, Cullip and Richards forming a solid partnership, the finesse provided by Simon King. I remain to be convinced by Richards – he’s certainly uncompromising and can only kick it the way he’s facing. Not necessarily a problem – Barry Ashby was much the same, but Ashby had far more defensive awareness. But still, it’s working.
Slowly we got a grip and Crofts blasted our first chance over. The referee then actually awarded us a free-kick, much to the disgust of the travelling support as the ball had fallen to our skipper on the edge of the box. A terrible decision, but all was forgotten when Nicky Southall demonstrated the class of old with a delightful curled chip over the wall and into the top corner. Cue much delight in the away end, and a bottle from the home end aimed at the linesman, who didn’t give anything against Millwall for the rest of the afternoon.
Trailing at half-time against Luton, the Gills support rallied and created a cracking atmosphere that contributed to the stirring second half recovery. Contrast that to the residents of the Play Pen, who remained largely silent and further demoralised their confidence-stripped players with screached barracking for every misplaced pass. Harris and Savage were as utterly ineffectual as we hoped they would be – utter tosh, with Harris compounding his inadequacy by hounding the referee into sending off Richards after a rash challenge that was never worthy of more than a yellow card. When Brkovic missed a header when it appeared easier to score (he was maybe concerned at messing up his hair) the howls were reminiscent of an urban fox orgy, all high pitches squeals and pained expressions.
It started to look like it might be our day but Millwall were increasingly threatening down our left, despite the support offered to Fuller by the ever-willing Leroy Griffiths, while up front Jackson and Ba struggled manfully to make in impact. With the noise levels finally wrenched up, the home side equalised – from a throw-in that should have been ours, taken in the wrong place, but the linesman was never going to go against the desires of the increasingly rabid twats behind him in the stand (the prize example being a wretched creature with a brown coat and the full portfolio of bulging eyes, throbbing veins, gurning expressions and cut-throat gestures).
It would be misguided to blame the officials though. By the final whistle we were hanging on, bar the odd dangerous cross and half-chance on the break, and we deserved no more than a draw. It was a stirring performance nonetheless. Some considered it a huge chance missed to secure three vital points but I think there was little else we could have done – we’d run out of steam and I was thankful for a point. You just have to wonder….why did we persevere with Facey so long? Why didn’t we play with this kind of tempo and commitment against Crewe and Port Vale? I’m still not sure where the two wins we need are going to come from and I fear our goal difference will be our undoing, but we live for another week….
Applaudable community stewarding. At the Town End we have reports of youthful exuberance being punished with a severe man-handling out of the ground. Yet in Bermondsey, you can stroll on to the pitch, ranting and raving and rallying support, place your hat on the centre spot, strut back and shake the stewards’ hands as they open the gate for you. Only one Millwall fan remonstrated with the twat, and he predictably got an earful…it’s never uneventful at the New Den
The Morty Vicker