‘Eight goals, and I’m still hacked off ...’ I’d have settled very happily for a 1-0 ground out result, but derbies do strange things to players and today was no exception. Conceding two equalisers to a team down to 10 men is bound to stick in the throat, especially with the second one coming in stoppage time. Over the full game we can have no complaints about having to share the spoils. Fact is overall they showed better control and passing than us through the match, with livelier and often quicker players, all of which left our central midfield outgunned, our wingers peripheral, and our defence with a severe case of the jitters. Anyone other than Millwall and you’d say they earnt their point. We failed to impose ourselves on the game. But it remains one we should have put to bed in the second half – and failed to do so; it was also one that we might have struggled to get back into having gone 2-0 down were it not for excellent work by both Mooney and Burton.
You can’t concede two penalties and have a player sent off and feel the ref did you any favours. But he did. He made a mistake and gave a corner which led to their second goal and didn’t even book the guy for the first penalty. Mooney was set to shoot and if it was adjudged a foul should have gone. The two penalties we were given cannot be considered contentious and on that basis we could have gone in at the break 2-1 up against nine men. Whether we would have made two extra men count is another matter. Otherwise I though the ref handled a difficult game quite well, clamping down early on the inevitable clashes, which involved booking both Sam and their guy, and then avoiding the temptation to square things up by giving Sam another yellow when he played the ball out with his boot a little high (and their guy ducking in).
Team selection was not contentious, with the defence picking itself (given the injuries), and the rest unchanged from Stockport. I thought it was a little surprising that Racon didn’t make the bench, which was heavily weighted towards the forwards, with Spring getting the nod.
The early exchanges were scrappy and indecisive, with plenty of niggly challenges, although it was indicative that from the off we struggled to get Sam and Wagstaff in the game. I’m one of Semedo’s biggest fans, but him and Bailey together in central midfield does leave us short of creativity and guile and places an emphasis on getting the wide men going. Today I thought Semedo was guilty too often of aimless balls hoofed clear, and the wingers guilty of not creating the space to make themselves available; too often we failed to keep possession and usually gave the ball away cheaply.
Nevertheless, it was a surprise when Millwall took the lead. It was one of those defensive howlers that happen sometimes. Two guys covering the ball (I think one was Basey) and making a mess between them, allowing their forward a clear run on Elliot. He didn’t fluff it. So, something of a wake-up call, but nothing really changed. Instead it remained mixed and before long the ref had made his gaffe by giving them a corner. It should have been cleared but wasn’t and ended up dropping to someone in a blue shirt (no, I really don’t care who) to put away.
It was starting to look like a crisis, but the saving grace proved to be the ability of Burton and Mooney to make the most of scraps. The ball was worked down the left and fed through to Mooney. He appeared to be about to shoot when challenged and the ref pointed to the spot. Burton delivered one of the best penalties you could wish to see and we were at least back in it. And before the break we had another. This time Sam seemed to be about to shoot and was brought down from the side. The added bonus was the red card and when Burton duly scored again the match had taken a very different complexion, with us going into the break with a spring in our step and a song in our throats.
It didn’t take long for things to get better, with one of the best goals you’ll see at The Valley or elsewhere this season. A cross from the right was nodded down by Mooney and Bailey from the edge of the area shaped and hit a waist-high ball soundly into the net. A couple of minutes later and it was the first chance to kill them off. A cross to the far post somehow was not headed home, by Mooney I think. One more and surely it would be effectively all over. Instead Millwall carried on playing their way and pegged us back, with our extra man counting for nothing. With the game tending to be played in our half it was only their woeful shooting that kept us ahead, but before long one at the near post was superbly saved by Elliot only to rebound to their guy to score.
The onus was back on us and we did indeed score again. We did, because I saw the scoreboard and afterwards the players kicked off from the centre circle. But exactly what happened I couldn’t say. All I know is that there was a scramble and suddenly we were celebrating. A friend said it was a headed own goal and I’ll take him at his word. Surely this time we wouldn’t blow it. But again the opportunity for a two-goal cushion went begging as Sodje(A), who had come on for Mooney (who seemed to fall awkwardly) only had to square it to Burton for a one-on-one but badly scuffed the pass.
McKenzie came on for the ineffective Wagstaff – and had far more of an impact, often looking threatening in a wide left position. And as the clock ran down Spring came on for Sam to tighten things up in midfield. But Millwall continued to press and to cause problems with their movement and after the fourth official had indicated five minutes of added time their guy moved down the right, evaded a couple of challenges, sold Dailly a dummy before squaring it for someone to score at the near post.
That finally proved to be it. Probably a great one for the neutrals but for us it was two points if not thrown away then not taken up. There was no question which set of supporters was happier at the end. ‘What a game’ was the text reply to the final score from my partner Suzanne. Not really.
Elliot: 7/10. Don’t think he stood any chance for the goals and did the rest capably. Not his fault.
Omozusi: 7/10. I missed his early games for us and am rather surprised that some fans seem to think his worse than he looks to me. Can’t attribute any of the goals to him.
Basey: 6/10. Some good work and plenty of tackles. But seemed to have a hand in their first and their final two came from down the left.
Sodje(S): 6/10. Won many headers, but you can’t play central defence and concede four and expect a good score. Would be a lower score if I could pin down why they caused us so many problems; just seemed a collective bad day.
Dailly: 6/10. As with Sodje. He’s been outstanding for us this season, but today our lack of pace in some areas seemed to cost us.
Sam: 5/10. The yellow card seemed to bother him; especially in the second half he should have counted for more with our extra man but struggled to find space and use it.
Semedo: 5/10. Nothing really wrong with the covering and protective work, but we simply failed to control midfield and his distribution out of defence was below standard. Not one of his better games.
Bailey: 7/10. Gets the extra mark for the goal, but he too has to be capable for our lack of midfield dominance.
Wagstaff: 5/10. Seldom in the game as an attacking force and did fail to connect well with one good opportunity.
Mooney: 8/10. Intelligent work in partnership with Burton. Neither has great pace, but they worked us back into the game from two down. Should have scored himself though after we had gone 3-2 up.
Burton: 8/10. Made a right nuisance of himself through the game, even when crowded out, and scored the penalties superbly.
Subs: Sodje(A) (5/10 – had one big moment which could have sealed the game and made a mess of the pass); McKenzie (8/10 – out wide but got involved and went past players, looked good); Spring (not enough time for any mark).