When this game was moved for television, the potential for a good sized crowd immediately disappeared. It is an easy enough journey from Watford, but a midday kick-off on a Sunday in January is enough to make most people opt for the sofa. So I was delighted (and not a little proud) when my niece said she would join us. Especially as it wasn’t even a new ground for her.
I had been pleased to hear the announcement earlier in the week that the controversial compulsory purchase order by Lewisham Council relating to land around the New Den that would have threatened Millwall’s future residence had been abandoned. So it was rather sad to go there and see the stands so sparsely populated.
Before the game, Mazzarri had been reported as saying that he would make 11 changes if he could. In fact, he made 7, a great chance for some of the fringe players to make a case for more game time. The starting line-up was Pantilimon; Kaboul, Mariappa, Britos; Djédjé, Doucouré, Watson, Guedioura, Mason; Okaka and Sinclair. I was pleased to see Watson back in the team, as well as Mariappa making his second debut. The tannoy announcer decided to make a big deal of the fact that he would struggle with all the foreign names in the Watford team, although pretending to struggle with Costel Pantilimon was rather lame. This, and a repeated request for the lads to bring their ladies to the Den on Valentines Day, felt like a throwback to the 80s.
Before kick-off, there was some discussion among our party of the 6-1 win, which it is hard to believe was in 2010. I missed that game due to a work trip to Tokyo (I’m still seething). The pessimist in me couldn’t help but say that we wouldn’t get a similar result.
The Hornets took the kick-off, but almost immediately Millwall launched a counter-attack through Morison whose cross was met with a strike from Gregory that, thankfully, rebounded off the crossbar. The fear at this point was that 6-1 was a possibility, but that it would favour the home side. This fear grew as a corner was headed off the line by Mariappa. Then a shot from Craig took a nasty deflection causing Pantilimon to have to tip it over the bar. The resulting corner was headed just wide by Cooper. The first goal attempt from the visitors didn’t come until the 16th minute with a shot from distance from Guedioura that flew well wide. The Algerian came closer soon after with a free-kick that took a slight deflection before hitting the outside of the post. Okaka was having a torrid afternoon, going down far too easily under challenges by players he should have been able to shrug off. The home crowd decided to join in the persecution with a chant of “You’re just a fat Danny Shittu!” Sinclair should have done better after breaking into the box, but fell over as he attempted to shoot, his pleas for a penalty were waved away.
With 10 minutes of the half remaining there was a mix up as Britos played the ball back to Pantilimon, Gregory nipped in and, in the scramble to clear, the keeper was injured and Mariappa’s intervention had the home crowd screaming for a penalty for handball. The Millwall fans lived up to their vile reputation chanting ‘let him die’ as the clearly injured Pantilimon was helped on to a stretcher. Gomes took his place in goal and was called into action almost immediately to stop a shot from Gregory. From the corner, Morison headed goalwards, but Guedioura was on hand to head the ball off the line.
It had been a frustrating first half. The visitors had the bulk of the play but failed to test Archer in the Millwall goal. The Watford players were spending far too much time passing the ball around, while Millwall launched pacy counter attacks and actually looked like scoring.
The home side started the second half in a similar manner to the first with a shot from Gregory that just cleared the bar. At the other end there was a decent chance as a cross from Djédjé was diverted goalwards by Cooper, but Archer made the save.
Watford had another chance when Mason crossed from the opposite wing, but Okaka just failed to connect. The Italian then felt that he was pulled back as he challenged for a cross from Guedioura and complained loudly to the referee or anyone else who would listen. By this point, he should have worked out that he was going to have to fight his own battles as the referee wasn’t going to help him. In the build-up Djédjé had gone down injured and the Millwall fans continued their charm offensive cheering as a stretcher was brought on to the pitch. Thankfully it wasn’t needed and nor was Janmaat who had readied to come on. From a Kaboul cross, Okaka again appeared to be held down allowing the keeper to punch clear. Half way through the second period, Djédjé did make way for Janmaat. He hadn’t had the best of games, so it was to be hoped that the Dutchman would provide more of an attacking threat. An attempt by Sinclair to break into the box was stopped by an excellent tackle on the edge of the area. Jerome was replaced soon after by Deeney, whose name had been sung with some enthusiasm as he warmed up. Troy was involved almost immediately as he headed a ball from Watson goalwards, but it was a fairly easy catch for Archer. Mason then went flying into a tackle and was lucky only to see a yellow card. Then a bit of pinball in the area finished with a save from Gomes.
Just as we were contemplating a replay at Vicarage Road, a cross reached Morison in the box and he finished through the legs of Gomes. The home side were celebrating a second soon after as a corner was bundled home by Wallace, but it was ruled out for handball. The home side had one final attempt to finish the game as Wallace tried a shot from distance, but Gomes was equal to it. There was a flurry of activity as the visitors tried to equalize, first through a header from Deeney that was caught by Archer. Then, in time added on, Troy looked sure to score with only the keeper to beat, but a last ditch intervention from Webster allowed him to block the shot and the Hornets were out of the cup.
The final whistle was met with loud boos from the travelling fans. It had been a shocking performance mostly due to a distinct lack of effort. Despite having the majority share of possession, they had managed only a single shot on target. The players drafted in had not impressed. Okaka couldn’t cope with the physical attentions of the Millwall players which, for a man of his stature, is just shocking. Sinclair was anonymous and Djédjé offered little. Guedioura put in more effort than most, but his execution was found wanting. Watson, Mason and Mariappa were the only ‘fringe’ players that didn’t let themselves down. It wasn’t until Deeney came on that Watford really threatened the Millwall goal. Given the quality of the team that was selected, that is just unacceptable. The action that summed up the afternoon for me was when a Millwall attack broke down with many of their players committed forward. Instead of immediately breaking downfield, the Watford players decided to play the ball about between themselves giving the opposition plenty of time to regroup. Having watched Millwall threaten on the counter all afternoon, you do have to wonder.
Next up a trip to Arsenal on Tuesday. I’m dreading it.