Millwall 1-3 Middlesbrough ~ Match Report

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After the disappointment of the cupexit at home to Bolton it was time to drag out that well worn cliché “let’sconcentrate on the league...

Concentrate is an apt word, as wefaced a Middlesbrough side who have got into the habit of winning games and weneeded to be on our mettle to face a side that look bound for minimum play offglory, if not automatic promotion.

A hardy bunch of northern fuckwits,some 500 odd, had turned up, to try and create an atmosphere in what was againa vastly undersold Den. The official figure of 9,286 was fooling no one. Ifseason ticket holders are not turning up (which is clearly the case) thenthings are in a dreadful state, in reality. It is all well and good that theclub still count the numbers as tickets sold but it is a thinly veiled crackpapering exercise in reality.

John Berylson has been vocal in hisrequest for more bums on seats but I amafraid at Millwall we quickly return to type and relegation soon equals emptyseats and even relegation battles are simply enough for a lot of fans to votewith their feet and shun our beloved temple for some homemade cottage pie andHolby city on the tele.

The team line up was notunimaginative but how they actually lined up was again a bit confusing. If youbelieved Deano “last man” Standing then we were going with a 4-4-2 withHenderson and Kane leading the line. This meant a midfield quartet of Feeney,Trotter, Wright and Keogh and a back four of Barron, Robbo, Lowry and Smith. Fordereturned to goal, one imagines, because Mildenhall had picked up an injury.

Referee Linnington got us going and Ithink it’s fair to say we started slow. That is to say Middlesbrough started atpace and we were still glowing from the family huddle. Thoughts immediatelyturned to Bolton’s start and we feared the worse.

In truth they should have been twogoals to the good after five minutes of relentless pressure. Within seconds thesigns were there as Jutkiewicz hit a speculative effort past the post but wefailed to spot the threat as twice David Forde came to our rescue with tworather desperate saves from the same player.

Then we witnessed a miss on par withDany N’guessens miss from earlier in the season as Emnes managed to somehowheader over from about 6 inches from the goal as we failed miserably to dealwith a basic corner kick.

Warning bells should have beenclanging throughout the whole of South London by now as Middlesbrough continuedto run us ragged.

It was no surprise when on the 15minute mark we again got ourselves in a complete muddle from a basic corner andalthough there was a small element of good fortune for the visitors when the initialshot from Williams more or less hit Emnes and flew into the back of our net.0-1 and more surprising was the Middlesbrough fans E-I-O-ing the goal.
This set back merely put us further intopanic stations with misplaced passes and dreadful closing down exacerbating thealready parlous situation. The home fans were soon voicing their disapprovaland this clearly generated more panic from the players who looked completelyout of their depth against a nonplussed Middlesbrough team who perhaps expecteda rough ride from a team battling for their existence in the Championship.

We did have a chance shortly afterthis when we actually did produce a decent passage of play when Trottercombined with Henderson who in turn found Keogh but Steele in the Middlesbroughgoal saved well but the lino was flagging furiously for offside. If Hendo hadtaken the chance instead of passing it may well have reaped some dividends forus.

But in truth it was really was allone way traffic and we looked completely out of our depth. Don’t ask me whatformation we were playing as we were getting pulled from pillar to post.Trotter was not firing on any cylinders, Feeney couldn’t beat an egg, Lowry waslooking decidedly uncomfortable as a centre half, Robbo was about as vociferousas Marcel Marceau (wearing a gag) and Kane and Keogh kept keystone kopping allover the place.

Wright was doing his best but heneeds to have the ball to be able to do something and we just couldn’t get alook in.

Barron and Smith were not covering theirselves in glory either. Woefully inadequate in every sense of the phrase.

Then they scored a second goal. It was,as Uthred of Bebbenberg might say, inexorable. A simple ball up field, notdealt with by Robbo who let Emnes bring it down, control it, turn across theface of the area and fire past the hapless Forde. 0-2 and a long night ahead...

Amazingly, as the half petered out wescored a goal! I know, incredible, isn’t it? Quite how we scored it I am nottoo sure but it looked to me like Barron sent in a free kick, Trotter nodded itonwards and there was Hendo, straining his neck like a child looking over aparapet to nod the ball beyond Steele and into the net. 1-2! Well none of ussaw that coming!

The half ended soon after and therewere plenty of boo hiss boo’s ringing around the ground as the abject Lionstrudged dolefully off the pitch, not even the goal had cheered up the bravesouls trapped inside the stadium of doom.

Two changes for the second halfbrought out groans and moans and some cheering (or was it jeering?). Barron wasoff, Dunne was on which meant Smith went to left back to accommodate Dunne andWright was replaced with Abdou.

Keogh also went up front with Hendersonas a proper 4-4-2 formation so at least we had some idea of the formation now.It was long ball time.

If the first half was abjectcapitulation by the Lions then the second half was almost the completeopposite.

With Abdou running around chasinganything that moved, it threw Middlesbrough into a bit of a state. They werelooking for the timid, hesitant, apprehensive outfit that they faced in thefirst half. What they got was a lion with some new dentures and a bit of anattitude.

The crowd soon sensed this and theroar started. The players responded and suddenly we looked the sharper of thetwo teams, more scope, more purpose and at last the visitors defence was undera bit of a siege.

We started forcing corners (I don’tthink we had a single one in the first 45?) and we forced them to start makingmistakes.

We should have done better when Bennett,relieved to have a moment free of pressure, inadvertently passed back to his ‘keeperwith Henderson lurking and the big man took on the chance but was thwarted ashe pulled the trigger when a last gasp tackle from Hines stopped a certainequaliser.

The direct approach was clearlypaying dividends and the home fans, clearly delirious with joy at this newfound approach actually cheered and applauded Abdou for simply getting the balland making a clean pass to Trotter. Why it needed that I have no idea but itwas all done in good part and not in any way meant as a dig at Abdou (I think).

Alan Dunne then did something thatshould’ve had the same effect on the home crowd as he rampaged as only he candown the right side, got to the bye line and cut back across towards goal. Ithink he didn’t quite know what to do once he got there and before he coulddecide what options he had the ‘keeper dived at his feet and stopped him in histracks.

For some reason, unknown to most ofus, the ‘keeper then collapsed in a heap and received treatment for about halfan hour...alright, slight exaggeration, about 5 minutes as a clear example oftime wasting to interrupt our flow.

There was nothing really wrong withSteele as was proven moments later when a blistering drive from Kane saw thenimble ‘keeper pull off a superb stop.

Next up he saved magnificently from aFeeney pile driver and finally when Henderson did beat him with a header from acorner the ball went agonisingly wide of the goal.

We were so clearly on top now and wewere surely going to equalise soon...

But with four minutes of normal timeleft, our coffin was effectively nailed shut. A mistake by the effervescentAbdou saw Middlesbrough gain possession just outside our box and a swift movesaw Arca play in Main who drilled the ball into the roof of our net. 1-3 andgame over, I am afraid.

They didn’t deserve that third goaland we certainly didn’t deserve to concede it but that is how life treats youat the wrong end of the table.

Even with 6 minutes of added time westill were flummoxed by a resolute Middlesbrough defence, in particular theirimpressive ‘keeper Steele who still managed two fine saves, one from JamesHenry, who had come on to replace Feeney on 85 minutes and then from Lowry, whochanced his arm from distance.

If only we had displayed the sameattitude for the first half as we did for the second then this tired old hackwould have felt much better typing this out but it always seems to be usplaying catch up these days and unless we can get the formula right from theword go then we are in this relegation battle until the bitter end.

Burnley away on Saturday is not anideal place to start your game plan for survival but it has to start somewhereand Turf Moor is as good as any place so lets see if we can keep the second halfmomentum going now for every game we have got left and who knows, we may stillget out of this mess with some distance between us and the three for the drop?
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