Tag Archives: Millwall FC

A Dismal Afternoon at the Den

Ben Watson leading the team out at the Den

Ben Watson leading the team out at the Den

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.

Mason and Onyedinma tangle

Mason and Onyedinma tangle

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.

Gones takes a goal kick

Gones takes a goal kick

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.

Okaka knocked off the ball

Okaka struggling with the Millwall approach

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.

The return of Mariappa

The return of Mariappa

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.

Job Done at the Den

Me and mine at the Den

Me and mine at the Den

After a gorgeous week weather-wise, we awoke to rain on Saturday morning.  But, thankfully, by the time I arrived in London, it had cleared up so I walked along the Thames from Waterloo to London Bridge.  There I met family and friends for lunch at a lovely pub before making the short trip to South Bermondsey.  The train was packed with Watford fans making a lot of noise.  The travelling faithful were full of confidence but, while Millwall were unlikely to provide the sort of challenge that Derby and Middlesbrough did, they were fighting relegation so this was not going to be an easy game.

Jokanovic had made two changes from the Middlesbrough match.  Connolly came in for the injured Cathcart and Vydra was preferred to Ighalo.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Connolly, Anya, Guedioura, Tözsér, Watson, Paredes, Vydra and Deeney.  As they took the field, the Watford players were greeted with ticker tape, streamers and yellow balloons from the travelling Hornets.

The teams take to the pitch

The teams take to the pitch

Watford almost made the perfect start as Tözsér played a ball over to Deeney but Forde was quickly out of his goal to block the shot.  Millwall threatened as Gregory broke forward and appeared to be held back by Hoban which gave Gomes time to gather the ball at his feet.  Gregory had another chance when the ball dropped to him in the box, but his shot was poor and flew well wide.  At the other end, Deeney got on the end of a Guedioura cross but he headed over the bar.  At this point the chanting in the away end turned to the subject of the bizarre pigeon that was suspended from the roof in front of us.  There were loud appeals for a Millwall penalty as Upson went down in the box.  It didn’t look like a penalty from our vantage point, although I would say that.  Thankfully the referee agreed and waved play on.  The visitors had a good chance on the counter attack as Tözsér released Vydra who found Anya on the overlap but the Scot’s cross was disappointingly straight at Forde.

Celebrating Vydra's strike

Celebrating Vydra’s strike

Watford took the lead on 25 minutes as a lovely long pass from Tözsér found Anya on the left, he cut it back to Vydra who hit a clever volley into the corner.  It was a gorgeous goal well worthy of a manic celebration.  We could have been two up soon afterwards as Paredes found Vydra who couldn’t get a shot in so moved the ball on to Watson whose shot was well wide of the target.  Another Watford chance went begging as Deeney found Anya on the left but his low cross was just too far in front of Vydra.  Millwall had a chance to hit back with a free kick in a dangerous area, but Upson directed the ball well over the bar.  Watford almost pushed the self-destruct button as Angella failed to shepherd the ball out, thankfully it was eventually cleared.  In the next move, the ball reached Woolford in the box but Gomes dropped to save his shot.  Needless to say, the 44th minute was greeted with applause and chants of “One of our own” for Nic Cruwys, about whom it was good to hear some positive news this week.  Millwall had a great chance of an equalizer just before half time as a shot from Abdou came through a crowd of players and Gomes seemed to see it late, but managed the save.

So we reached half-time a goal to the good.  It hadn’t been a classic performance from Watford, but Vydra had scored with a lovely strike and Millwall, despite having a lot of possession, had not really threatened the Watford goal.  There was encouraging news from the other grounds as the half-time scores meant that we would overtake Norwich to take second place in the table.  But there was much more important stuff going on at half-time as the tannoy announcer congratulated Gladys Protheroe on the occasion of her 75th birthday.

Tozser places the ball for a free kick

Tozser places the ball for a free kick

Millwall threatened in the first minute of the second half as a header from O’Brien appeared to be blocked on the line.  Deeney then had a chance to increase the lead as the ball rebounded to him in the box, but Forde was out to save at his feet.  At this point the Watford crowd started a chant for our head coach to the tune of Amarillo, which seemed most incongruous.  On 50 minutes Millwall’s Williams hit a free kick just wide of the target.  Watford nerves were settled just before the hour mark as Vydra played the ball to Deeney who advanced before passing to Anya who cut the ball back to Guedioura who fired past Forde in front of the travelling fans who erupted for yet another mental celebration.  The first Watford substitution saw Anya make way for Abdi.  Millwall looked sure to pull a goal back as O’Brien powered into the box, but Gomes made himself huge and blocked the shot.  Watford had a good chance of a third goal as Vydra was one-on-one with Forde but the keeper managed to gather the ball.

Gomes takes a goal kick

Gomes takes a goal kick

Gomes did brilliantly to keep his clean sheet as he punched a header clear with Maierhofer closing in.  Both players ended up on the turf, but there was no harm done.  A run down the wing by Abdi was stopped by a hack from Nelson.  The Millwall man received a yellow card for the foul and, thankfully, Almen was fit to continue after treatment.  The home side wasted another chance as Gueye met a cross from Martin with a poor volley that cleared the target.  The home fans appealed in vain for another penalty as a shot was blocked by the chest (arm?) of Angella.  Into the final 10 minutes there was another shot from Gueye which was easily gathered by Gomes.  Jokanovic made his second substitution replacing Vydra, who was given an ovation from the Watford fans, with Ighalo, who was greeted in a similar manner.  The Nigerian almost made an immediate impact as Guedioura found him in the box but Forde was there to block his shot and then reached up to push the rebound away from the head of Abdi.  A quite brilliant double stop from the Galwegian.

Ighalo replaces Vydra

Ighalo replaces Vydra

Deeney had a great chance to increase the lead with a powerful shot from an Abdi cross, but Forde pulled off another fantastic save to deny him.  When Guedioura found Abdi in space, you would have put your house on Almen scoring from that position, but he hit it well wide, much to the bemusement of the travelling Hornets.  Watford made a final substitution in time added on as Motta replaced Paredes, who left the field with the jeers of the home fans ringing in his ears as he had just fallen rather theatrically under a challenge.  The final whistle went on a convincing win by the Hornets which was slightly marred as news of Norwich’s injury time winner filtered through.  Abdi’s miss and Forde’s brilliant saves suddenly took on a greater significance.

But it was job done for the Hornets who remain third in the table and have cut the gap in goal difference to a single goal.  So, we have four games remaining, which will all feel like cup finals.  Both players and fans have to approach them with the belief that we can win every game and score enough goals to gain automatic promotion.  See you all at the City Ground on Wednesday.

A Fitting Tribute

The poppy display

The poppy display viewed from the family stand

With this being the closest home game to Armistice Day in the 100th year since the start of World War I, the usual commemorations were being supplemented with a foil display organized by the 1881 group and financed by Watford’s players.  A crowd turned up at the ground first thing to put the foils out, a job that was completed in double quick time.  According to the instructions from the club, we arrived at our seats earlier than usual to find all the usual stragglers were already there and that programmes had sold out.  When instructed, we raised our foils and, from our position under the display, could only wonder whether it had been a success.  I must admit that the photos were breath-taking and must thank a friend who sits in the Family Stand for providing the wonderful picture shown here.  Huge congratulations to Roy Moore and the other lads from 1881 who designed and executed the display.  It was a tremendous achievement.

On the pitch, the players were to wear the black and white kit from 1914, so Millwall wore their yellow change strip.  It was very bizarre to see the opposition in yellow at Vicarage Road.  Team news was that there were three changes with Gomes and Deeney returning from injury and Andrews in for Anya in midfield, so the starting line-up was Gomes, Pudil, Ekstrand, Bassong, Paredes, Tözsér, Munari, Andrews, Ighalo, Vydra and Deeney.  Undistinguished former loanee Matthew Briggs started for the visitors.  It should also be mentioned that, now the final seats have been installed in the Community stand, we have a four-sided ground for the first time in many years.  It is a wonderful sight to see.

Ighalo trying to hold off a defender

Ighalo trying to hold off a defender

The home side dominated the early exchanges, the first goal attempt coming as Deeney and Vydra exchanged passes in the box and Troy hit a shot that Forde dropped to save.  At the other end a low cross by Woolford was gathered by Gomes.  On 11 minutes, Millwall took the lead as McDonald crossed to Woolford inside the box, he shrugged off Bassong and slotted the ball into the bottom corner.  That certainly depressed the mood in the home stands.  Watford tried to strike back immediately as Vydra played a through ball to Paredes but his shot rebounded off the post.  Millwall’s Dunne went down dramatically after a challenge from Deeney.  Watford played on and Dunne leapt to his feet and sprinted back to defend.  At the next break in play Forde bafflingly went to remonstrate with the referee and was booked.  The next time that the ball went anywhere near the goal was on the half hour when a free-kick from Tözsér flew over the bar.  The next action of note was a bizarre challenge by Vydra, who was clearly frustrated as he jumped into Williams.  He was fortunate not to be carded.

Forde trying to organize his wall

Forde trying to organize his wall

Injury forced an early Watford substitution as Bassong made way for Hoban.  An attempted break by Ighalo was stopped by a push from Briggs who was shown a yellow card for his trouble.  From the free-kick, Ighalo unleashed a shot that was turned around the post by Forde.  The resultant corner was straight off the training ground as it was played out to Andrews, who dinked it in to Vydra, running into the box, who got the slightest touch and the ball trickled over the line.  The goal invigorated Matej who next hit a shot from a cut back by Ighalo which was turned just wide.  Then, from the corner, he headed just over.  For the visitors, Fuller broke into the box and went down under a challenge but the referee was having none of it and the forward was booked for his protests.  In time added on at the end of the first half, Dunne bundled Deeney over on the edge of the box and was booked for the offence.  Tözsér’s free-kick was a bullet that flew past the wall and into the net.  The Millwall keeper, Forde, didn’t move.  It had been a strange first half, with a long period when nothing much happened, but it had burst into life at the end and it was great to go into half time a goal to the good.

Tozser congraulated on his bullet

Tozser congraulated on his bullet

Millwall had the first chance of the second half as Woolford got his head to a corner from Williams but he directed it wide of the target.  At the other end, a header from Hoban was saved, but the flag was already up for offside.  Deeney and Munari exchanged passes then played a through ball for Vydra but Forde was first to the ball.  On the hour, Holloway made his first substitution as Briggs was replaced by Malone.  Martin tried to break forward but was taken down by Hoban who was booked for the foul.  On 63 minutes, Watford increased the lead as, from a free-kick, Vydra cut the ball back to Munari who lashed it past Forde for Watford’s third goal.  A frustrated Fuller kicked out at Ekstrand and was lucky not to see a second yellow card so Holloway did the sensible thing and replaced him with Gueye before he got himself sent off.

Harry joins in the celebrations for the third goal

Harry congratulates Munari on the third goal

Jokanovic also made a change replacing Vydra with Dyer.  Hearts were in mouths in the Rookery as Woolford beat Hoban and shot goalwards, but Pudil was on hand to clear the shot off the line.  Gueye’s first contribution was a shot through a crowd of players that was easily caught by Gomes.  A terrible back pass from Williams almost increased Watford’s lead as it appeared to beat Forde, but it drifted just wide.  With 10 minutes remaining, Pudil needed a team mate’s help with a touch of cramp, was told to leave the pitch having ‘received treatment’ and soon after was replaced by Doyley.  The Millwall players seemed determined to score an own goal, this time Forde had to reach to prevent a back header sneaking in.  Holloway’s final substitution saw Martin make way for O’Brien.  There was another bizarre occurrence as a Millwall player went behind the advertising hoardings to retrieve the ball and took the throw-in from there leading the referee to blow up for a foul throw.  Gueye broke into the box and cut the ball back but Gomes dropped to gather.  Gomes then had to be smart to tip over a header from Dunne.  Dyer released Paredes who ran the length of the pitch but his shot was deflected wide.  That was the last action of the game as the whistle went to cheers and chants of “We are top of the league.”

Yet again, it hadn’t been a brilliant performance but we had broken down a well-organized Holloway side and, once we’d got the third goal had never been in any danger.  We all agreed that sometimes you have to win ugly.  It is far too early in the season and far too tight at the top of the Championship to get too excited, but we are now none games unbeaten and the signs are all good for an exciting season.

Disappointment at the Den

Borough Market

Borough Market

It was a little chilly on Saturday, but pleasant enough to have our pre-match pints standing outside the pub in Borough Market watching the world go by. The cider was rather lovely and the food stalls there are a delight, which is just what you need before making the short trip to the depths of South Bermondsey.

The pre-admission bag search was carried out by a woman who, in her quest to find bottles, repeatedly asked me if I was carrying deodorant. I tried not to interpret this as a pointed comment on my personal hygiene.

The minute's silence for the 96

The minute’s silence for the 96

In common with all games this weekend, there was a minute’s silence at 15:06 to remember the 96 who died at Hillsborough. As someone who was at a football match on 15th April 1989, standing on a terrace at Swindon, the horror of what happened that day will never leave me. Over the intervening 25 years, that horror has been married to increasing levels of anger at the way that the victims and their families have been treated. I hope that the new inquests will finally give the families some closure.

Cristian Battocchio in with the away fans

Cristian Battocchio in with the away fans

As we awaited the kick-off, a chant of “Cristian Battocchio” went up behind me and sure enough there was the young midfielder looking for a seat in the away stand. I’m pleased to say that he was walking without crutches and had no trouble walking up and down the steps as he chose his vantage point.

The home side had an early chance on goal as Edwards tried a shot from distance that flew over the bar. Edwards was also involved in the next incident of note, as he tried to escape from Riera and was cynically taken down, earning the Spaniard a booking. Watford’s first goal attempt was a shot from McGugan that was wide of the target. Angella had a great chance from a McGugan corner but headed just wide. Deeney released McGugan, but the defender got the better of him and set up a counter attack that finished with Martin shooting just wide of the

McGugan celebrating his goal

McGugan celebrating his goal

near post. On 16 minutes, Watford went ahead as Deeney cut the ball back to McGugan who buried it past Forde. McGugan could have increased the lead soon after with a lovely shot that curled just wide. On 25 minutes, he tried another shot from distance that also curled just wide of the target. Millwall’s Martin was booked for a rant at the referee after a throw was given against him when he headed the ball out. I can only think that he believed that Abdi had got a touch to it. The home side had a great chance to equalize as Malone unleashed a powerful shot that Almunia did well to block. On the half hour, Almunia came for a corner by Martin, his punch fell to Woolford but his shot was blocked. Then Millwall had

Abdi on the ball

Abdi on the ball

another decent chance as Garvan got on the end of a cross from Maierhofer but again the shot was saved by Almunia. Tözsér was penalized for a high tackle on Williams which the Millwall players thought was inside the box, but the referee indicated otherwise. The free-kick came to nothing. Then Angella intervened to divert a shot from Martin for a corner. Deeney and McGugan combined, but Troy’s shot was straight at Forde. Just before half-time, with Anya on the ground injured, Millwall launched an attack that seemed to go on forever but ended when Woolford shot straight at Almunia, who kicked the ball out to allow Anya to receive treatment. That was Ikechi’s last involvement as he limped off to be replaced by Forestieri.

A Tozser free kick

A Tozser free kick

At half time, Morison replaced Garvan. Early in the second half, Almunia and Hoban both went up for a cross with Maierhofer challenging and Hoban went down injured. It was a worrying sight but, thankfully, after a period of treatment he was fit to continue. Millwall had a great chance to equalize as Maierhofer met a free kick with a header that was just over the bar. Then a nice move from Watford as a throw-in from Faraoni allowed Abdi to get behind the defence and cross, but Deeney’s header was over the bar. On the hour, Jackson replaced Martin for the home side. Millwall were level soon after as, from a corner, the ball dropped to Morison who shot across Almunia into the opposite corner. It has to be said that the equalizer had been coming and, all of a sudden, there was a wall of noise in the

The wounded warrior

The wounded warrior

Den. For the visitors Pudil replaced Riera, who had been disappointing. On 69 minutes, Watford launched their first real attack of the half as Abdi found Forestieri whose shot was blocked and rebounded back to Abdi whose shot was also blocked. We were on the attack again immediately as Pudil advanced and crossed for McGugan, but Forde was down to save his shot. Maierhofer was replaced by Easter for the home side. There was a clash of heads between Angella and Beevers which resulted in the Italian returning with a heavily bandaged head. As the first high ball came his way after his treatment, I wondered if he’d hesitate, but not our Gabriele. He seemed even more determined to get his head to every ball that came anywhere near him, as if to test out his new headgear. Millwall substitute Jackson attempted to break the deadlock, but his shot was high and wide. Murray replaced McGugan

Celebrating Adbi's Goal

Celebrating Adbi’s Goal

for the final few minutes. Millwall really should have taken the lead as a great shot from Dunne required an equally good save from Almunia to keep it out. But it was the visitors who, totally undeservedly, took the lead as a swift counter attack finished with Pudil cutting the ball back to Abdi whose shot took a deflection before flying past Forde. Millwall went for the equalizer but Almunia denied Woolford. Watford couldn’t hold on. Deep into injury time, a Millwall corner bounced around the Watford box before dropping to Woolford whose shot should have been held by Almunia, but bounced out of his arms and into the goal.

 

More celebrations of Abdi's strike

More celebrations of Abdi’s strike

There was a lot of frustration among the travelling ‘Orns at the end of the game. But, annoying as it was to concede so late again, the hosts were fully deserving of at least a point as we had been dreadful in the second half. Equally, no blame should be attached to Almunia who, despite his lapse, had pulled off some great saves to keep us in the game.

Hopefully, people will finally stop talking about promotion and what ifs. We have not been strong or consistent enough this season to gain promotion and I certainly don’t want to see another unprepared Watford team losing week in week out in the Premier League. Next season will be very interesting. If we can keep this team together with a couple of quality additions, I’d like to think that we could do what Leicester have done this season. But that is a big ‘if’. Next Summer will be very interesting.

 

Taming the Lions

Harry Hornet and Almunia prior to kick-off

Harry Hornet and Almunia prior to kick-off

I don’t understand the appeal of Christmas jumpers, so I was rather disturbed to find myself in the minority in the West Herts prior to the game on Boxing Day.  Everywhere I looked there was someone else sporting Rudolf on their chest.  It was like a scene from “The World’s End”.  These people may have looked ‘normal’ but their dead eyes betrayed the fact that they were automatons who had replaced the humans that they resembled.  But I digress …

 

Sannino had made two changes from the team that faced Ipswich, bringing in Anya for Pudil and Forestieri for Fabbrini.  So the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Angella, Doyley, Anya, McGugan, Thorne, Murray, Cassetti, Forestieri and Deeney.  The lovely Danny Shittu captained Millwall sporting a few pounds more than when he played for us.  The referee was the not-so-lovely Andy D’Urso, never a welcome visitor to Vicarage Road. 

Giuseppe Sannino in the home dug out for the first time

Giuseppe Sannino in the home dug out for the first time

We started the game brightly as Cassetti received a pass from Forestieri and put in a deep cross that was headed back by Deeney, but the ball was cleared before Murray could get on the end of it.  In the 9th minute, we were a goal up and Millwall were a man down.  McGugan played a lovely ball over the top to Deeney.  From the other end of the ground, I saw Forde drop to make a save while Deeney tumbled over so I was a little surprised when the referee pointed to the spot and brandished a red card, which I assumed was for the keeper, Forde.  It was only when Shittu walked off that I realized that it was he who had pulled Deeney to the ground.  I’m not sure how I missed his presence in the box.  I must need distance glasses after all.  Deeney stepped up and put the penalty to

Celebrating Deeney's penalty

Celebrating Deeney’s penalty

Forde’s right.  Our first goal at home since mid-October and the Boxing Day celebrations started.  The visitors could have equalized soon after as Morison met a corner with a header, but Anya was on the line to block it.  The Rookery started singing his chant, which I adapted to “Ikechi Anya stands on the line for me.”  It didn’t catch on.  Had that chance gone in, it may have been a very different game, such are the fine margins between success and failure.  On 17 minutes, the ball dropped to Murray on the edge of the box, but his shot was wide of the far post.  Soon after, there appeared to be a replay of the

McGugan takes a free-kick

McGugan takes a free-kick

penalty incident as Forestieri played a ball through to Deeney who tumbled again, apparently pulled down by Robinson this time, but D’Urso waved play on.  We were two up on 26 minutes as Murray found Anya on the left who crossed for Forestieri who controlled the ball and poked it past Forde.  Just before the half hour we could have been three up as Cassetti really should have done better with a header from a McGugan free-kick.  Then McGugan fed Cassetti again, the Italian put in a great cross but it was headed clear.  On 38 minutes, Deeney found McGugan in space but his shot was wide of the far post.  Just before half-time, while Thorne was on the ground injured, Forestieri took revenge with a high tackle on Trotter which left both players needing treatment and earned him a yellow card.  When the whistle went for half-time there were happy smiles in the Rookery for the first time in ages.

 

Anya celebrating with the bench

Anya celebrating with the bench

The second half started superbly as Anya curled a shot from 25 yards into the top corner.  Sitting behind the goal in the Rookery, there is a particular pleasure to these goals as they come flying towards you and into the net.  Anya, after being smothered by his team-mates, went running to the bench to celebrate with the coaching staff.  We could have been four up soon after as Forestieri also tried a shot from distance but it crashed off the post.  Then Thorne put a ball over the top to Deeney who headed back to Forestieri but his shot was blocked and the linesman had already raised his flag.  On 53 minutes, the visitors appeared to have pulled one back as Beevers headed past Almunia from a free kick but it was ruled out for offside.  At this point, Chaplow replaced Easter for Millwall.  McGugan was the next player to try a shot from distance which hit the underside

That can't be Jack Smith, can it?

That can’t be Jack Smith, can it?

of the crossbar and bounced down and out.  Just before the hour, young Jack Smith replaced Trotter to applause from the home crowd.  I know I’m getting old, but I still find it shocking when a player that I seem to have watched play in the youth team only recently appears and he’s thirty and follically challenged!  I didn’t have too long to mull on this thought as there were shouts for a handball in the Millwall box.  Andy D’Urso waved it away, but the linesman was waving his flag as if it was his favourite Christmas present and, when he had attracted the referee’s attention, held it across his chest so D’Urso had no choice but to point to the spot.  McGugan stepped up this time and hit the penalty

McGugan lining up the penalty

McGugan lining up the penalty

into the bottom corner to Forde’s right to put the Hornets 4-0 up.  This prompted a chorus of “You should have gone to the sales” from the home crowd.  Watford continued to go for goal as a Forestieri free-kick went over the wall but straight into Forde’s arms.  On 67 minutes, Iriney replaced Thorne.  Soon after, Ekstrand earned a bizarre yellow card as he tried a basketball dribble in the middle of the field for no apparent reason.  He has only played 3 games since his suspension for 5 yellow cards and has already picked up two more without making a tackle.  On 72 minutes, there was a spell of lovely passing to olés from the home crowd which finished with Deeney trying to break clear but he was stopped by a tackle from Beevers.  We could have been five up as Forestieri got on the end of a lovely cross from Murray but he used his shoulder to divert the ball into the net and was flagged offside anyway.  Then McGugan got on the end of a pass from Murray and crashed another shot off the crossbar.  He should have had a hat-trick at this stage.  That was his last contribution to the game as he was replaced by Battocchio.  Cassetti then tried to beat Lowry to get into the box but the defender just reached out and hauled him down.  Lowry’s

Celebrating McGugan's penalty

Celebrating McGugan’s penalty

defeated expression as he trudged away with the yellow card being waved at his back spoke volumes for the mood in the Millwall team.  But the visitors did launch an attack with 10 minutes to go.  First a shot from distance by Abdou was deflected over.  Then Almunia leapt to catch a bizarre looping ball that I think was a pass back to the keeper, this elicited gasps from the Millwall end which were ridiculed by the home fans.  But, to be fair, it was probably the first chance that they had seen for their team at that end of the ground.  At the other end, Anya and Iriney exchanged bouncing passes before finding Forestieri whose shot was over the bar.  Sannino made his last substitution at this point replacing Anya with Bellerin.  With 3 minutes remaining, Almunia was finally required to make a save as he tipped over a shot from Hoyte.  We had one final goal attempt in time added on as Forestieri tried an overhead kick, which Forde blocked.

So, for the first time since mid-October the final whistle was greeted with cheers from the Rookery.  It had been a spirited performance and, at last, the players were playing with confidence and taking their chances rather than waiting for the perfect shot on goal.  Also, there was a feeling that things had fallen our way for a change.  Millwall had been awful and Steve Lomas was sacked after the game, but you can only play what is in front of you and this felt like a return to the team that we were watching last season.  QPR will be much more of a test on Sunday, but at least we can go into that game with renewed hope.