Millwall 3 : Derby County 3 – 24th April 2015

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A strange & sad day. The Witch, Spicy Kev & me were supping a pre-match beverage in a pub near London Bridge as the awful news came though about Colin Bloomfield passing away. What a courageous bloke, what a gentleman. He was never far from our thoughts for the rest of the day.

What a bonkers game though. Millwall were clearly up for it, as teams fighting relegation so often are. Other than a bit of huff & puff they weren’t much cop, to be honest. But they didn’t need much else, if you added their grit & determination to a bit of random refereeing & a few colossal howlers from our good selves.

There was a nice little bonus for The Witch in the ground, once we got past the massed ranks of the Millwall security staff, SWAT teams & local paramilitary militia. They were playing the Brighton v Watford match on the concourse. Another resilient, confident performance from the Glory Hornet Boys, if only we could play like that..

This was our second visit to The Den. What a soulless place it is. The giant recycling incinerator nearby was probably more welcoming. To be fair to the Millwall fans, the minutes silence for the anniversary of the Bradford fire was immaculately observed. I never expected that. The Derby fans, filling the top tier of the North Stand, were in fine voice as the game started. The “One Colin Bloomfield” chant was pretty emotional, I have to say I nearly broke down during that.

The game? It was insane. Keogh looked in trouble from the start. He got a few lucky free kicks but never looked comfortable. I tried to work out who out of our erstwhile midfield trio of Hughes, Hendrick & Dawkins was playing the holding role but it was a bit of a challenge to say the least. Let’s just say they were a bit fluid.

Before long we were one nil down. We’ve conceded many goals this season due to horrendous errors but this really took the biscuit. A poor back pass from Fozzy put Grant under a bit of pressure but he still had time to compose himself & lob the ball up to Sammon. Instead he scuffed the ball up in the air, allowing Gregory to gallop forward & shoot at goal. Not the best of strikes to be honest & Fozzy could have easily cleared it as  he raced back towards the goal line. He didn’t though. We were incredulous at that. Madness.

What was to come was even worse. Hendrick cravenly lost possession in midfield & we all know that means our defence is instantly under pressure. Keogh’s luck ran out & the ref adjudged him to have handled the ball in the box, despite the fact that he was lying on the floor at the time & it had hit his leg first. If the ref had judged that to be deliberate, surely he should have been sent off? Keogh wasn’t even booked, although you wouldn’t have thought so from the histrionic, mardy tantrum he came out with. Two nil down. I’m pretty sure some Derby fans departed after that, although they could’ve just decided to partake in a lukewarm plastic bottle of Carlsberg on the concourse.

As in many other games since January, we got out of jail courtesy of the educated left foot of Thomas Ince. That free kick meant he’d scored 11 goals in 17 games. We’d be in mid table without that. At least that gave us some hope at the half time whistle but that goal hadn’t covered up our failings. The team left the field to a chorus of boos. At least we were still in the game, just as long as we didn’t make any more mistakes…

Anyway, I couldn’t really see what happened, as it was the other side of the pitch, but clearly Jeff must have been having some sort of wrestling match in the area with a Millwall player. Another penalty, a hat trick for Gregory & the massed ranks of knuckledraggers in the Millwall stands were celebrating wildly. And, obviously, puffing their chests out & threatening to kill us after the game.

I’m pretty sure McClaren threw Martin & Albentosa on at this stage but I could be wrong. Obviously, The Petulant One went up front with the ineffective Sammon & immediately made a difference, not just by his touch & hold up play but also by his ability to win the ball in the air. I also expected Albentosa to go up front to be honest. Nope. Warnock was off, Fozzy moved to left back & the big Spaniard was popped into central defence. Not really a game changing substitution was it?

Despite this, a bit of resilience & fight crept back into our game. You have to give them credit for that. Before long we had a penalty courtesy of Ince’s direct run into the box & his ability to start going to ground before anyone touched him. 3-2. We had a chance. We kept plugging away & Russell (who’d been pretty ineffective after replacing the hapless Lingard at half time), for once managed to get a decent cross in, Ince won a header & Jeff, in his one positive contribution to the game, smacked in a superlative volley. There you go. 3-3.

All that was left was for us to watch the animals invade the pitch at full time, swiftly depart the ground, check the table to see that we were still in the top 6 & Watford had been promoted. The Witch was quite pleased at that. Oh & one more thing to do. Find a pub on the Thames with a decent view & raise a glass to Bloomers. A strange & sad day indeed.

Watford 1 : Birmingham City 0 – 18th April 2015

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I was really looking forward to this game & it didn’t disappoint. I had a bit of an epiphany actually. It’s been tough watching Derby this season & I’ve managed to combine this with a few ropey Hornets games that I’ve not felt motivated to blog about. This was different though. It was a richly satisfying experience & it reminded me of why I’ve loved going to football matches these last 33 years.

It was was just me & The Witch for this one, hunkering down in the depths of the lower Graham Taylor Stand, slightly dissatisfied that the “bars” behind us weren’t serving beer (a bit like the away end actually..).

Anyway.. Here are a few musings..

The flags (little & large) – this is something that Watford are obviously way ahead of Derby in. Organised & presumably purchased by the 1881 Movement, the Rookery was full of yellow & black flags & boy was it a sight to behold. The display as the teams came out was awe inspiring. A bit better than waving a few black & white scarves around eh? As well as that there were at least 3 giant flags being pulled around the Rookery, Graham Taylor & Elton John stands. Brilliant stuff & it really added to the atmosphere (which was pretty good for a crowd just short of 20,000).

Brum – they came to defend & no more than that. I don’t really blame them to be honest, they made it difficult for Watford, but I was a bit disappointed in them (& Mr Rowett). On their occasional sorties forward, Cotterill was his usual intelligent, skillful self but other than that, they had nothing to offer. Demarai Gray, subject of a £5 million bid by Bournemouth in January, was completely ineffectual.

Deeney – this guy is a god as far as I’m concerned. Could’ve had a couple of goals & certainly deserved one after yet another barnstorming display of pace, power, skill & sheer physicality. Above all he is leader &, as I’ve said before, the beating heart of this team. 20+ goals in each of the last 3 seasons too. I’d love to see how he copes with the Premier League next season.

That goal – We had an amazing view of it, the celebrations from the players & the Rookery end exploding. It was amazing. Was it a scissor or an overhead kick from Cathcart? Doesn’t really matter does it? Can you imagine Bucko, Keogh, Whitbread or Shotton doing that? Nope. That goal steadied the nerves somewhat & meant that Brum’s game plan was shot, basically.

Game management – I didn’t really think it was THAT necessary but the way Watford saw this game out was pretty impressive. They didn’t pile forward with gay abandon & spent the last 5 minutes near the corner flag in front of me & The Witch, forcing Brum to concede throw ins & corners & basically wasting time. It worked.

Top, top, top – the roar that greeted the final whistle felt pretty good. Bournemouth looked like they’d won, so that meant Watford had moved up to 2nd. Not bad at all. As we walked down Vicarage Road my mind was, quite rightly, on whether or not the Wetherspoons had a decent stout or porter on tap. But then we all realised the Bournemouth game hadn’t finished & Sheffield Wednesday (bless ’em) had equalised in the last minute of injury time. Splendid. The atmosphere walking back into town was exultant. Watford were top. Bloody hell.

And that pint of Station Porter was great, by the way. Rounded the day off quite nicely, actually.