Tag Archives: Neil Harris

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.