No amount of reasoned assessment can compensate for the facts; once again we’ve lost a home game that on the balance of play we should not have done. The fact that it’s against Millwall is irrelevant; they’re going nowhere and, as with Palace, we’ll have the opportunity to turn them over next season (in that sense it is improvement compared with a season ago). Of course it doesn’t feel like that now. There were no problems with attitude, or effort, but we didn’t make it count when we had the upper hand and ended up conceding bad goals and finding no way back. If we’d scored first, we most probably would have won, but instead it proved to be another game which turned on incidents at either end in a minute. Both went against us and we lost. I really wouldn’t mind, but it’s not exactly the first time this season, at home.
The team was adventurous, even ambitious. While there were no issues in defence, with Cort still absent, Sir Chris opted for Jackson and Pritchard in central midfield, Harriott and Wilson in the wide berths, and Haynes and the returning Kermorgant up front. It was a line-up that seemed to take chances in central midfield but relied on Haynes getting in behind them, from Kermorgant’s flicks. In the event central midfield more than held their own, with Jackson outstanding and Pritchard winning more than a fair share of tackles, The tactic of getting Haynes in behind them so nearly worked, but ended up falling foul of Shittu’s ability to prevent Haynes from getting past him, by his playing right on the edge of the rules.
The opening 10-15 minutes were not surprisingly scrappy as both teams tested each other out on a still difficult pitch (once again, down the side nearest the East Stand it was a problem to move the ball, with surface water visible). Keeping possession wasn’t easy, but as the game settle down we did begin to create half-chances. A Pritchard shot wasn’t gathered by their keeper, but he recovered in time to smother the follow-up; Harriott had a fiercer effort parried, while Haynes was to set the scene for the rest of the game by almost making the most of balls that Kermorgant had no right to win. N’Guessan did blaze one over for them, but through the first period we steadily asserted ourselves, based on the work by Jackson and Pritchard, while Taylor and Morrison were keeping their forwards under wraps.
Towards the end of the first half you had the feeling that we were in the ascendency, but in a game in which it was evident that the first goal would probably be crucial we hadn’t made that count, And the warning came in stoppage time as a ball broke in our box and their guy hit it narrowly wide. It was probably the best chance of the half and despite our relative dominance it went to them.
The second half started off much as the first and for a while we looked as though that elusive first goal would come. It was all based around Haynes and Shittu. Two, three, possibly four times Haynes seemed to be in as you would have backed his pace to beat the defender. But each time Shittu managed to move him wider than he wanted to be and to prevent him from getting in a strike on goal. At times it bordered on the illegal, with full use made of his ample frame to restrict the pace. But each time the referee deemed what was done to be fair enough. And a free kick for us just outside the box saw Kermorgant curl one over the wall but fractionally wide of the post, with their keeper stranded.
The decisions of the officials were to play a role in what proved to be the decisive moments not long after. Easter came off the bench for them and straight away a ball went into their box. Kermorgant challenged for it despite a defender having his arms around his neck and after neither made contact Wilson sliding in at the far post failed to convert the opportunity. Both the ref and the linesman deemed that nothing unfair had happened; both could have decided otherwise. After a break for treatment for their keeper who’d collided with the post, the ball was squared from their left and nobody went close enough with Easter, who slotted it in from close range.
To be behind was harsh enough, but only a few minutes later Pritchard was guilty of a clumsy challenge. The free kick was some way out and, although their guy shaped up to shoot, there wasn’t a sense of imminent danger. He ended up curling it into the top corner. It wasn’t hit that hard, and Button had a long time to see where it was going, but he wasn’t able to keep it out. I’d have to see it again to see if it was a wonder strike, but for now it looked like a mix of that and an error by Button.
From being on top on points we were 0-2 down and more than chasing the game. Wagstaff and Fuller came on, for Wilson and Haynes (presumably the thinking was that Millwall would sit deeper and there wouldn’t be the space behind them to exploit). But in truth the game was up. Fuller seemed to be manhandled in the box, but again nothing was given, while a decent ball into the box from Wagstaff looked to be dropping perfectly for Kermorgant only for Fuller to get an ineffective touch on it. However, as seeing out a 2-0 lead goes it was pretty comfortable for Millwall, with Shittu maintaining the dominance he’d shown through the rest of the game. We didn’t get back into it and all that remained was for their lot to enjoy the closing minutes.
There was a fair bit to admire about our performance. Kermorgant played the main striker role effectively, Jackson was immense, especially in the first half, while Taylor and Morrison, supported by Solly and Wiggins, were seldom troubled. Where we failed was making it count in and around their box, where Haynes threatened so much but didn’t deliver, while too often going forward we failed to make the right choices, or make the opportunity count. Most neutrals would give man of the match to Shittu; most of us would question why so many challenges by him and others were deemed fair, If the ref gives us a penalty just before they scored, the game turns out differently. It’s a league of fine margins – and at home just about all of them have not gone our way.
So we have to eat it. Two defeats against Palace and Millwall turning us over on our patch. It will all seem better in the morning, when their electronic tags spark into life and we contemplate that this season is really about staying up. If that’s achieved, nothing else matters. We can sort them sort them out and re-establish a proper order of things next season.
Button – 5/10. Had very few shots to save but I do think he should have kept out their second as he had a long time to see it coming. Also, he wobbled after that with a flap or two at a cross. All a bit reminiscent of the performance by Hamer that saw him rested.
Solly – 6/10. For the most part more than fine. He saw off the threat down his side in the first half in some style, but their opening goal came down his flank.
Wiggins – 6/10. Sound performance, but not a great deal coming forward.
Morrison – 7/10. The defence restricted Millwall to just a few chances and to concede two was tough. Just who should have been picking up Easter for their first is the open question.
Taylor – 7/10. As with Morrison, for the most part was in control of their forwards but they scored.
Harriott – 6/10. Was a threat in the first half especially, but when the pressure was on to get back into the game after going behind became more peripheral.
Jackson – 8/10. Immense in the first half in particular and was central to us gaining the upper hand.
Pritchard – 7/10. I still don’t know. Did more than his fair share of work and won many tackles. The problem was when approaching the final third as there he didn’t make the most of his opportunities, whether shooting or passing.
Wilson – 6/10. Put in a shift but perhaps should have got on the end of that cross to score.
Kermorgant – 8/10. Once more played his heart out, took the battering that comes his way, and was involved in creating the openings that should have won us the game.
Haynes – 6/10. He should have been the match-winner but today in the first half nothing seemed to stick and in the second the better opportunities he had fell foul of Shittu.
Subs – Fuller (5/10 – the game might have been up by the time he came on, perhaps he should have got a penalty, but he blazed over from a good position and was otherwise ineffective); Wagstaff (7-10 – did deliver a cross or two and made the usual nuisance of himself).