Fan’s View 2016/17 – No.38 MILLWALL

Photo courtesy of Steve Daniels
Photo courtesy of Steve Daniels
Article by Paul Beasley

EFL DIVISION ONE GAME 45: MILLWALL

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That was without doubt one of our best performances of the entire season. Off the top of my head I can’t think of a better one.

Any neutral not knowing which side held a play-off slot and which could no longer make them would have got the two teams muddled.

I concluded a few weeks back that we are a little short. Getting into the play-offs obviously doesn’t guarantee winning the Wembley final and, even if that were to be achieved, there are still no assurances that any side going up via this method or automatically will be Championship ready.

We’re not ready but amazingly the Lions remain in 6th position, courtesy of Shrewsbury beating Southend, and if we win our last game and they lose theirs we’ll end the season just one point behind them.

So how far short are we?  (And how much of that gap not being that great is down to loan players that don’t belong to us?)

If only we’d managed to beat one and draw at Minchery Farm with another of the teams who came up with us last season instead of losing all three. That would have put us above Millwall on goal difference. Best to forget that though because every team has their “IF ONLY” statements.

I’m assuming that the hosts very much had an off day. All teams have them. Perhaps they were unable to cope with the pressure and expectation. Perhaps we were that good we made them look very poor. Probably a mix of both.

We of course had no pressure and could play care free football plus another factor that really aided us was the quality of the playing surface. I only detected one bobble all match. When compared to the pockmarked pitch in south Oxford this must have seemed like nirvana to the boys in yellow. Just what our style of football is crying out for and with a shorter cut that helped the ball move about fast and true. If we’d played the Checkatrade final at the New Den I think we would have won the meaningless thing.

Being two up in nine minutes was to say the least a big surprise but we took control from the first kick and never relinquished it once all afternoon. On this occasion I can believe the stats that gave us 62% possession, particularly as we saw the game out with possession football resulting in pass after pass and an olé or two from the travelling support. There was also a rendition of “We’re Oxford United we’re taking the piss”. I don’t think we were. It was exactly what was required in the circumstances.

For the first goal we played many passes down the right before John Lundstram chipped another telling pass to Marvin Johnson who headed to Josh Ruffels. He checked back and instead of playing in Chris Maguire to his right, found Conor McAleny waiting on the edge of the D. Johnno had made a run which gave the defenders something to think about. McAleny does things so quickly. I know what he can do but wasn’t expecting him to get a shot away with such speed. Nor, I suspect were the home defence, including keeper Jordan Archer who possibly should have done better. Nevertheless it was an excellent finish and as pleasing as anything was the all-round movement and awareness of our attacking unit.

The second again contained passes a plenty, working the ball from one side of the pitch to another. Again it involved a Lunny pass. This one was a first time delicious clip which was brought down superbly by McAleny. Two touches worked a shooting chance and shoot he did. Across Archer and one bounce later it had arrowed into the net. (Good goal. Pathetic description by me. Again should the keeper have done better?)

Our third on 71 minutes was no more than we deserved and this time was a more basic goal from a dead ball situation. Maguire lofted a decent corner to the far post which Archer looked like he was going to collect but for some reason withdrew his arms at the last minute. Ruffels wasn’t taking any notice of that anyway and came powering in to head home. He very much deserved it.

Millwall only had one effort on target all game and that has been written off by some reports as “straight at the keeper”. Well yes it was but only because Simon Eastwood came off his line and became the boss in the 1 v 1 situation, making another fantastic trademark block. At 2-0 that could have been a turning point because if that had gone in the home supporters would have been a different proposition roaring their team on. But they remained in that stunned state which had befallen them in those first nine minutes.

That they did not have more shots on goal or any other clear cut chances was down to our shape, which for the most part was excellently solid. There were only a couple of times in the second half when they appeared to have space in front of our back four but we soon got back into position before there was any real danger. The defence never looked like it was going to be breached. We had two proper reliable full-backs who can pass a ball in the required simple fashion. Flash is not needed. I also like the way we put our foot through the ball when required. In Curtis Nelson and Charlie Raglan we had two centre-halves who were able to deal with the long ball game Millwall deployed.

Every player deserves plaudits. Canice Carroll looked incredibly assured and at times did a thing or two that made me think it was Marv or a more experienced campaigner amongst our ranks. Lunny’s passing range was magnificent and Ruffels showed that he is capable of being a lot more than just reliable. Maggs too deserves a mention and for all the quality around him is still at the heart of much of the good stuff we do. I absolutely cannot believe we have some fans who are looking for every opportunity to slag him off. For me they deserve to be watching the side that contained the likes of Phil Trainer, not the vastly superior players who are now representing our football club.

So all in all a very enjoyable day out at the EFL 2017 Family Club of the year.  Yes, really. To be fair I think they really are trying and must have despaired at the post match pitch invasion, as well as the couple that ran on during the game.

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Trying to get a grasp of things from the perspective of Millwall fans I chanced upon a report on millwall.vitalfootball and have to say how fair and balanced it was. It included this, “Worrall replaces the ineffectual AOB before some idiots run on the pitch to be greeted with a burst of “You are embarrassing” from the Oxford fans. I agree.” Yes, embarrassing, as were the actions bang on 90 minutes. No added time from the referee who had probably given the players the nod as to when he was to blow. There were no protestations from the men in stripes. They knew a few added minutes would make no difference. They knew they’d been well beaten.

And before anyone says anything I’ll make reference to Oxford v Northwich on 26 April 2009 which was even worse. Totally embarrassed by our so called fans that day. I want us to have more class than that.

I’d not really checked the ages of our pitch invaders from eight years ago but the ‘Wall supporters all looked incredibly young. Someone near me termed them “schooligans.” That is such an apt description. I would suggest what Millwall really need to do is identify them, bring them into the club and educate them on community and good manners. That would allow them to polish up that award with pride.

Coming away from the ground some youngsters were still giving the two fingers to the coaches which turned out to provide fine entertainment for those sat nearer the front. Instead of looking where he was going, one was focused on those he was expressing hatred towards thus failing to spot a street sign which he walked straight into. There was also a well-dressed older bloke – someone estimated at least 70, but I think that is an exaggeration – strolling along and he too gave us the same sign. Charming.

But are Millwall that different from many other clubs? We had many amongst our 630 travellers who spent a fair bit of the match gesticulating towards the home fans and singing songs that you wouldn’t trot out if Granny was round for Sunday tea. They also looked up for other stuff too and apparently there was a brawl between two sets of Oxford fans at some stage during the day.

Perhaps that’s just the way things are at football these days.

But to end on a brighter note – Danny Baker on Twitter on Saturday evening, pictured with a drink in hand, “Good evening, everyone”. Followed by a nice retort from yellowtim “Not that good #OUFC 3 #Millwall  0”