Date:Saturday January 26 2013
The New Den
Attendance: 15 007
So, to coin an old phrase if I may be so bold, we`d picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves down, and we were ready to start all over again. Hopefully we surmised, our beloved football team was too.
Destination Millwall Rovers. Well they dropped the Rovers back in the late 1880`s, and became Millwall Athletic, a name they carried until they entered the Football League in 1920, when they turned into today`s F.A. Cup fourth round opponents, Millwall Football Club.
Tuesday evening was some night, eh? A night that will live long in the memory, and for all the wrong reasons. What a let down. What a disappointment. How on earth did our home match day reporter Villa_Grizzly compose himself enough to provide us with such an excellent match report after that shambles of a nightmare? Villa-Grizzly, you did us proud my friend. Superb writing (again). What a pity our team couldn`t do the same.
Still, to all intents and purposes, that non-happening is now behind us, we have to look forward, and with an extremely tricky encounter ahead of us at The Den, we had to stop feeling sorry for ourselves, re-group, focus on progressing through to the final sixteen of the F.A. Challenge Cup competition, and more importantly, infinitely more importantly Mr. Lerner and Mr. Lambert, secure our treasured Premier League existence for the 2013-14 campaign.
The Den. This was our eleventh visit to Millwall (well ninth visit for Andy - he 'chickened` out twice, but don`t tell him that I explained away his absence in that terminology), but of course all previous trips were to New Cross, nine league games, one F.A. Cup fourth round replay, whereas this latest visit was to their new stadium in South Bermondsey, south-east London.
Our first visit back in season 1967-68, a second division encounter, a game we won 2-1, was very definitely an eye-opening experience for four naive teenagers who travelled to the game on Flights Coaches out of Stockland Green. I think we all came of age that Saturday afternoon. No wonder in the mid to late seventies the Millwall supporters introduced, rather belatedly I hasten to add, their 'No one likes us, We don`t care chant`. They were certainly non too welcoming way back then.
One of the 'highlights` of that autumn afternoon, I think it was October time, very early November at the latest, came just a minute or so before the end of the match. We were seeing out the game, under intense pressure (see, nothing`s changed there), when Millwall scored what would have been the equaliser. But no, the referee, brave soul that he was (I believe his name was Norman Burtenshaw, but don`t hold me to that), decided that there had been an infringement, and he disallowed the goal. What? The locals were in uproar. At the final whistle, a mere twenty seconds or so later, they poured onto the pitch, knocked the poor referee unconscious ( I kid you not), then headed for us.
Yes, I could write a book about our previous trips to Millwall, in the sixties and seventies particularly. I`ll spare you all the details. Things have changed. Time has moved on. They`ve mellowed. We hoped!
They are an extremely loyal and passionate crowd, I`ll certainly give them that. I`d say arguably the most passionate and vocal crowd in London. They`ll get 100% behind their team, particularly if and when its rough going for them. They create quite an atmosphere. Noisy, loud, and intimidating, more often than not, in the right and appropriate way. Yes, top supporters, despite their unfortunate reputation, which to be fair, the club has tried very hard to lose in recent years.
So there we were, Gary the days designated chauffeur, steering us towards the M40, all listening and joining in with Barclay James Harvest`s rather good 1977 'Gone To Earth` album (our accompaniment on the opening track Hymn, honed by years of practice, really has to be heard first hand to be believed), discussing and debating Villa Park life since we all parted company after last weekend`s Hawthorns derby. All four of us were chipping in with our thoughts and concerns ranging from Bradford City, to our non-involvement in the winter transfer widow, particularly with regards to the serious implications, that the lack of the much needed new arrivals will have on our premier league future.
As many of you will quite possibly agree, going with what we`ve got, has to be deemed at best a rather chancy risk. Certainly based on the evidence of what has gone before, it would appear to be an extremely foolhardy route for the Birmingham B6 powers that be to take. Still that`s a topic for discussion on another day, and no doubt it will be discussed vigorously by Villans everywhere once the window slams firmly shut at 10.00 p.m. next Thursday evening.
We enjoyed The Rolling Stones 'Their Satanic Majesties Request`, Colosseum`s 'Valentyne Suite`, and Spirit`s 'Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus`, before we pulled into Uxbridge Tube Station, where we were to park the car, and then catch the train into Finchley Road, enjoying our pre-game refreshments in the pub just outside the station. We then hopped back on the tube to London Bridge, before climbing onboard the overground, which delivered us to South Bermondsey.
By this point our four strong party, Neil, Andy, Gary and yours truly had grown to a gathering of thirteen, having collected fellow Villa travellers at all three previous stopping off points. We became a close little gathering in our all too brief time together, shared a few laughs, and indeed a few tears as well, as we all relived the Bradford City two-legged fiasco. One of our new friends suggested we all agreed to meet up again next season at Finchley Road, when we visit The Den for our championship fixture. 'That fixture might not happen though` said another, 'Millwall might get themselves promoted`.
We arrived at The Den to be met by quite a police presence, and were directed to the stadium via a quarter mile or so walkway reserved for away supporters, straight into the away end. 'We could have done with executive treatment like this back in the sixties and seventies` Andy remarked to one of the officers, and received a wry smile in response. Hey Thomas Holte (Derek), it`s a picnic coming here nowadays, compared to those dark, bad old days of our youth.
So four changes to the starting line-up, with Paul Lambert sending out the following starting eleven:-
Shay Given, Matt Lowton, Ron Vlaar, Eric Lichaj, Cieran Clark, Joe Bennett, Ashley Westwood, Fabian Delph, Charles N`Zogbia, Andi Weimann, and Darren Bent.
On the bench, hoping to play their part as the game progressed:- Brad Guzan, Stephen Ireland, Jordan Bowery, Gabby Agbonlahor, Barry Bannan, Brett Holman, and Derrick Williams.
Samir Carruthers overlooked again? I was disappointed about that. I feel that the young man is deserving of an opportunity. Maybe he`s injured?
Another bitter cold night for football watching, extremely nippy indeed, and the home lot were in very good voice as the announcer read out the two starting line ups. The stadium was far from full (although by fifteen/twenty minutes into the game it had filled up considerably), and it looked initially to be a fairly disappointing turn-out. Friday night F.A. Cup football on a biting cold January night I guess. 'London Calling` by The Clash then boomed out from the tannoy system. That got the old feet a`tapping and helped circulate the blood.
Another very good away following in attendance, particularly considering the timing of the game, and our recent disappointments, and it helped create a noisy, vibrant atmosphere.
I had braced myself to expect a possible flat start to the game from our lads, but that wasn`t the case. On a bobbly surface we looked bright and inventive, with Andi Weimann getting down the right, and winning the first corner of the game. Ashley Westwood sent the ball in, but with Ron Vlaar attacking the ball, Millwall managed to clear the danger. Charles N`Zogbia, set up by Benty, sent an effort wide when really he should have done better, while Millwall themselves weren`t slow to get forward at every opportunity. It had been a decent start to the game. We were working the ball well, but weren`t creating anything.
There were muted shouts for a home penalty as Cieran Clark miscued his header which then hit his arm. It looked completely accidental, and the referee was unimpressed.
Both sides were now struggling to control the ball on the freezing pitch, and while we were enjoying the bulk of possession, we seemed to have little idea of what to do with it.
We had the minutes applause for Stan Petrov, and shortly afterwards we scored the games opening goal. We broke through Charles N'Zogbia, he beat his man and fired in a shot, which Millwall keeper Forde parried. The ball fell kindly to Darren Bent, who miskicked into the unguarded net.
1-0, cue celebrations in the upper tier of the away end.
We weren`t ahead for long though. Just five minutes later Danny Shittu outmuscled the static Eric Lichaj to power home a header. From a corner! Yes, that old failing haunts us yet again. Poor defending once again. 1-1.
We were looking rattled as the home team pushed forward, and Shay Given conceded another corner, which somehow we managed to defend.
We had to calm things down a bit, because with the home crowd now really behind Millwall, and the home team pushing for the kill, we were looking very, very shaky. Cieran Clark and Eric Lichaj in particular were having a torrid time. Both seemingly lacking even basic ball control. Every time the ball was swung into our box, we started to panic.
We had started giving the ball away cheaply, and with the home side upping their tempo, we had to hope we could get through to half time still on level terms. What a state to be in eh? This was after all lower league opposition that we were facing.
Fabian Delph had been injured and replaced by Barry Bannan, which was a shame because Delphy had started the game brightly, and after Andi Weimann, had looked the player most 'up for it`.
A Millwall effort that flew harmlessly over the bar brought the first half to a close. Half-time score: Millwall 1 Lambert`s Limes 1
Without a doubt our best performer throughout the opening forty five minutes had been young Weimann, while Clarky and Eric Lichaj were having shockers. It had been bitterly disappointing to concede yet again from a corner kick, Lichaj this time having to shoulder the blame. He simply allowed Shittu to bully and out-jump him. Terrible defending. Why we had Lichaj picking up Shittu though, I`ll never know. A total mismatch.
The home team started the second half brightly, and we were looking increasingly nervy. Whenever Millwall had the ball, we looked decidedly uncomfortable. We looked o.k. pushing forward, but at the back we were all at sea. Surely Lambert has to bring in reinforcements before the transfer window slams shut? We cannot continue as is, because its just not working.
Charles N`Zogbia had been taking a bit of flak from the home fans in the Dockers Stand, and the altercation escalated when the referee awarded us a free kick, and missiles were thrown onto the pitch. Madness I thought, the stoppage would only halt the tempo of the home team. Friday night idiots, who`d obviously consumed a beer or two too many.
Since Darren`s goal we hadn`t threatened at all, in fact our play had become very scrappy. You had the nasty feeling that if Millwall kept throwing balls into our box, sooner or later they would grab a second. We were very much second best. We were looking extremely pedestrian, and just didn`t have it in us to up the tempo. It was all very frustrating.
Henry had a decent chance for the home team. He attempted to chip Shay Given, but fortunately for us, there wasn`t enough on it.
An elert piece of goalkeeping from Forde in the home goal denied Darren Bent a rare opportunity, but still we failed to keep up any sort of pressure. Barry Bannan was up to his usual trick of giving the ball away needlessly, and we just lacked that premier league quality that would have made the difference. BB lacks concentration. He`s not a youngster anymore. He needs to step up, be consistent, and deliver. He is not alert or aware enough, and until he is, he`ll continue to struggle.
There was a total lack of movement up front for us, although N`Zogbia was certainly doing his best to make things happen. Even he though was falling short of what was required. The effort was there, the quality wasn`t.
Bannan sent in a swerving effort that the Millwall 'keeper managed to beat away, and then Lambert surprisingly decided to take off Andi Weimann and replace him with Jordan Bowery. Personally I`d have sent Gabby on, his extra pace might have just been the spark to trouble the home defence. Then again, unless he was nursing an injury, I wouldn`t have taken Andi off.
Jordan was on the field for less than 30 seconds before he found his way into the referee`s notebook. He was shown the yellow card for raising an arm to Shittu.
It was turning into another disappointing Villa performance. We hadn`t looked premier league quality at all. While Millwall hadn`t been overly threatening this half, we simply hadn`t any ideas as to how to break them down. We had looked hesitant and shaky at the back, non-existent in midfield, and completely impotent up front. Nowhere near good enough. This really cant go on.
It looked as though the game was heading for a draw, when from a final Millwall push, the home team grabbed the winner. A scramble in our box following a hopeful cross that should have been dealt with by Matty Lowton, resulted in the ball hitting our cross bar, with a.n.other wearing a home shirt, able to gleefully force the rebound into an empty net.
You couldn`t make it up. Well if you`re a regular watcher of AVFC this season, yes you could. In fact you don`t have to make it up. Its right there before our very eyes.
Six minutes of added time was announced by the assistant referee, but it would have needed to be six hours to allow us a real opportunity to get back into the game. We were clueless. It had been another extremely poor showing by a team that looked as if it would rather be anywhere other than playing Friday night F.A. Cup football.
A few players came over at the final whistle to applaud the travelling Villans, Ron Vlaar was one, but they were greeted with boo`s and jeers, so made a hasty retreat. The mood amongst the Villa support was definitely one of hostility. And who can blame them?
We were kept in for about twenty five minutes by the police, and because of that we certainly experienced a trouble free exit when we were finally allowed to make our way to the train .
We have to bring onboard quality before the deadline. That isn`t an option. There`s no alternative. Its strengthen now, or accept the alternative. Which is of course relegation.
Although it hurts me to admit it, this squad of players will take us nowhere this season but down. The squad is nowhere near good enough, and what on earth they work on at Bodymoor Heath during the week is a complete mystery to me. They look a bunch of individuals who meet up for the first time in the dressing room prior to a game.
Anyway, and so began the tedious and tiresome trek back to Brummagem, with the first step being utilising the London Transport trains to get us back to Uxbridge and the car. Neil summed things up perfectly for all four of us, when he commented, 'After over forty six years of watching this club away from home, game after game, never missing, I`m really starting to believe that I`ve had enough. After watching that performance tonight, I have to question, what`s the point? It`s not fun anymore`.
It was hard to argue with him, and as we drove back down the M40 heading home, apart from the five c.d. Moody Blues 'Time Traveller` box set that played throughout, barely a word was spoken.
I suspect like most of you good folk, we have just simply had enough over these past two and a half seasons, and with the rot and decline now completely set in, and with the club sliding backwards towards the Championship, it is extremely galling that seemingly no one in a position to help retrieve the situation, is prepared to speak up or lift a hand to do so. All we get is silence, and no necessary action. Unbelievable.
It is sad. So very sad. Oh well, no F.A. Challenge Cup triumph for us this season. Good Luck to Millwall. They deserved it. Bring on Newcastle United. But only because we have to!
Have a great weekend, and a more than very decent week guys. Keep those fingers crossed that three or four quality new faces arrive to help save our season. Don`t work too hard. And oh yes, Up The Villa.
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Date:Saturday January 26 2013
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