Millwall 0 - West Bromwich Albion 2
A barnstorming win today in difficult conditions - a game that shouldn’t have gone ahead of the authorities and powers that be cared at all about the safety of travelling fans.
I felt really confident we’d win and possibly by a bigger margin before I even saw the starting lineup. The reason for that is I think we’ve had a really solid window with and combined with Pereira coming back, it just looks like we’ve got a hell of a squad to finish the season with arguably lacking only an out and out goal scorer in their prime.
The lineup looked decent enough - I’d probably have gone with Phillips over Krov given the conditions and Furlong at right back. I’d also have dropped Sawyers as he looks like he needs it. Our bench looked really strong - every player capable of having an impact.
And despite the conditions we started well - fighting like mad, players like Krov throwing themselves into tackles and getting up early for headers.
In the opening 20 we should’ve been a goal or two up, our passing really good and HRK getting our forwards into the game.
At the back, and thankfully we did this all game, it was total no nonsense, SJ going long and taking no risks.
Millwall had a bit of a spell putting us under pressure but we looked a threat on the break and if anything our frustration was that we couldn’t get the goal. I was half lamenting Krov again for having a good game but missing that end product when he curled that beauty into the corner.
After that we just seemed to take total control of the match and penned Millwall in for the rest of the half and continued the siege well into the 2nd half.
Everything was brilliant apart from the finishing and as chances went begging the worry was we’d concede a fluke or something at the death - but Phillips and Grosicki came on and pressed further until O’Shea got our second.
We saw it out, threatening to add more - the wheels of perhaps a juggernaut towards the title just starting to turn in full motion.
Bilic loved it. Rowett was honest in his admiration.
Arguably the best centre half in the league was on our bench and the best left back and winger are going to be fit soon. It really should be ours to screw up here - something we’re well capable of for sure but hopefully that’s our sticky patch done and if we fight like that in every game we’ll take some stopping.
The lack of any "top flight" football meant that I got to watch this one in the main bar of the pub I go to, to watch televised sport, although I doubt it was just that lack of any top flight games that saw me being the only person inside the bar for most of our game.
In an echo back to an earlier game watched at the Inglewood, I found myself keeping an eye on a second screen where, once again, Jason Roy was making a pigs ear of things, although, as the warm up to the Albion match started, it was rather odd to catch a glimpse of a "West Bromwich Albion" banner as a sunlit backdrop to the three wickets for twenty-five runs loss occurring in Johannesburg, whilst any Albion banner that might have been put out at the New Den were probably being blown half-way to the South Coast.
The first corner of the game served as a perfect introduction to the conditions with both Pereira and Krovinovic required to keep the ball within the corner quadrant.
The Albion seemed to have come with a plan to press Millwall high up the pitch and try to benefit from any havoc that the wind might cause for any balls punted over the top of the press, whilst looking to keep it close the boundary layer of the pitch when in possession, and it was plan that seemed to be executed perfectly, though even when it wasn't, HRK was doing a perfect impression of Shane Long in chasing after any mis-hit balls and constantly harassing defenders.
It's not that any of the officials saw the shirt pull, made off the pitch in the sixth minute, that prevented him getting back onto the pitch to retrieve the ball after both attacker and defender had slid off it.
Whilst Albion were having much the better of it, every now and again, something fell for the home side and around twenty minutes in, Johnstone chose to be safe rather than sorry in punching away a long distance attempt and shortly afterwards, a lucky bounce out of a crowd of legs saw a Millwall attacker able to get a clear sight of goal from a wide angle inside the box only to blast it over the bar.
With the play soon up at the other end, a home defender's attempt to hack it away from the edge of the area missed the pill completely but sadly the ball carried on towards Bartley, who completely failed the audition for "someone to throw on up front in case they might nick something".
Around the half-hour mark, HRK got played in behind the Millwall defence after some lovely slick passing but, despite getting a shot off from his favoured foot, it wasn't enough of a shot to trouble the keeper.
Just when it seemed likely that, for all the good football, and the continued spell of pressure, the Albion would go in at half-time with nothing to show for it, and with Root and Denley having seemingly steadied the ship for England, both games changed.
Krovinovic, whose quick feet had been causing problems for Millwall defenders all half, used another behind the heel change of direction to make enough space to curl an effort from outside the box into the far side netting and so see us go in at half-time a goal to the good.
Meanwhile, down in Jo'burg, Root feathered a ball down the leg-side off the spinner where the fielder managed to get his hand going back against his body movement to just about catch it in the fingertips.
The second-half pretty much followed the pattern of the first, with Albion's short passing, much of it tied together by a fine performance from Sawyers, giving them most of the play, whilst always making you wonder if Millwall might nick a goal, especially when either of our full-backs failed to find a team-mate with a pass.
With 65 gone, yet another Albion player got be added to the ever lengthening list of those who had featured against the same club in one season, as a new-to-Millwall Grosicki came on to replace another new-to-them, Robinson. I thought the latter looked a more than capable fiil-in for Diangana out wide, if perhaps not showing all that much of the goal-scorers art when the few opportunities arose, and if that gap in the squad ever needed stressing, pretty much the first contribution from Grosicki brough it home as, after he'd delivered a cross to HRK, the Welshman mis-hit it horribly but then saw the fluff drop to Pereira whose volley nearly left the stadium.
Around the 80-minunte mark, Denley, who'd taken England to within 25 runs of the target with 15 overs remaining, played the cricket equivalent of a Row-Z volley by hitting a lofted cover-drive that was all loft and little drive and got caught, bringing Moeen to the crease to witness yet another wobble in a run chase that should have been the cricketing equivalent of the last day formalities of the Tour de France's "parade ride" to the line.
Back in SE16 though, any thoughts of Albion failing to make it over the finish line were put to rest after Grosicki's 84th-minute corner was met at the near post by O'Shea, whose glance just inside said post went over the line from where the Millwall keeper, for some reason standing behind it, tried to execute the save he might have actually made had he stayed in front of the line.
Despite taking so long to close out the game, few home fans will have thought that we didn't deserve the win, though my whoop of relief failed to upset any other punters in the bar, as there were none.
If you take away the conditions, and the small worry about our full-backs not quite able to buy into the short-passing game, then there was much to take away from this one, along with the three points, especially considering Millwall's position in the table, and the fact that they'd not failed to score at home prior to this one, indeed there would seem to be enough creativity, in most combinations for the three of the 4231 and with an on-form Sawyers gluing it all together, to see us pressurise other sides but you still have to wonder who, of the front options, is going to actually score.
WE ARE TOP-OF-THE-LEAGUE...
Albion were forced to fight all the way at The Den before claiming the three points needed to extend our advantage over Leeds United, at the top-of-the-table, to four points. We took the lead just before half-time and dominated for most of the game, but there was still a chance that Millwall might nick a draw, until we made the game safe.
Slaven Bilic brought back Matheus Pereira, after his suspension, in place of Matt Phillips, and preferred Hal Robson-Kanu to Charlie Austin up front.
The Baggies made a storming start in the blustery weather, winning an early corner which took ages to take, as the wind repeatedly blew the ball away from the flag. In the 4th minute Robinson slipped Pereira through on goal and his left footed shot beat the keeper only to rebound back off the foot of the post. Next, sheer determination won Albion possession, but from a deflected cross, Ajayi prodded the ball the wrong side of the post. A superb move, starting in the left back position, led to Robson-Kanu racing through on goal, but his cross-shot was comfortably saved. The game’s pivotal moment came in the 42nd minute. Matheus Pereira found Filip Krovinovic on the edge of the box, he cut back and curved a sublime right footed shot into the bottom corner of the net. There’s no doubt that the half time lead was well deserved and could have been more, with the only significant save from Johnstone coming from a long-distance shot.
Early in the second half the Baggies should have doubled the lead. Crisp passing cut through the Lions defence and a fierce Robinson cross was fumbled by the keeper, the ball fell to Robson-Kanu but he scooped his shot over the bar from close range. With Albion back to their best, the home side were being totally overrun, exemplified by the final shot total, 29 for the Baggies to 7 by the home side. It was Kamil Grosicki, coming on as sub to make his debut, who set-up the second goal in the 84th minute. His right-wing corner was whipped into the near post and a glancing header from Dara O`Shea deceived the keeper at the foot of the post. There was still time for Johnstone to save a second long-range free-kick, but by then the Baggies faithful were already celebrated a well-earned victory.
This was one of our best performances of the season. There are many candidates for man-of-the-match, in fact all players were close to their best. A faultless display by Johnstone, solid defending from the back four and in front of them by the holding midfielders, plenty of passing from the creative midfielders and an energetic performance from Robson-Kanu up front. Jake Livermore, Matheus Pereira and Filip Krovinovic were all strong candidates, but I’ve chosen Dara O`Shea, who gave his best performance of the season and scored his first Albion goal.
In 1920 Millwall were one of the original members of Football League Division Three. Albion made their first visit to the original Den in an FA Cup Round One match on Saturday 12th January 1924, winning 1-0 with a goal from Joe Carter in front of 30,922 fans. We had to wait until 1928/29 for our first league visit, a 2-2 draw, before at the fourth attempt gaining a first away league victory, by 5-1, in 1938/39, our biggest ever win at the ground. The Lions moved to their current stadium in 1993 and we’ve played there six times without picking up three points, before today’s success.
ALBION FORMRATE: VERY GOOD
MAN-OF-THE-MATCH: DARA O`SHEA
All text, pictures and graphics are copyright of BOING unless otherwise stated