Is there a better setting for football than the banks of the Thames on a balmy summer’s evening? The away fans may argue in between two sets of railway lines in deepest, darkest Bermondsey, but of course they would be wrong.
The first midweek game at the Cottage of the season saw Millwall and their pride of angry fans head to the nice bit of London with hopes of repeating the defeat they handed to us on our last return to the Championship. But times have changed since Felix put that team out.
Unsurprisingly, Scott started the same XI (and same bench) as he did against Huddersfield with Millwall choosing to leave ex-Whites Matt Smith and Shaun Hutchinson on the bench – clearly Neil Harris wasn’t aware of the Fulham’s speciality of letting ex-players score against them.
The game started off at a steady pace and it wasn’t long before the home side took control of the ball, setting the tone for the evening. Millwall set up very deep, allowing Fulham to come at them, and come at them they would! On 13 minutes, Mitro had a header tipped over the bar for a corner but the home fans would only have to wait another minute before the ball was in the net. And after opening his account last Friday, Ivan Cavaleiro showed it was no fluke as he cut in from the left-hand side of the box before drilling in high across Bialkowski in the Millwall goal.
Would going 1-0 down cause Millwall to adjust their game plan? No. The wave of Fulham attacks continued and the Lions offered little going forward. Mitro picked up a questionable yellow card after a fairly innocuous tussle and Knockaert did the same when he was seemingly fouled but then made his displeasure known when the referee decided being pulled down didn’t warrant a free-kick. Good to see Championship referees haven’t changed during our Premier League gap year.
Despite the minor disciplinary hiccups, it wasn’t long before the ball was settling into the Putney End goal once again. Knockaert’s tenacious run from the right-hand side saw him lay off the ball before it eventually made it’s way to Cav on the touchline and his cross found it’s way onto the Frenchman’s head as he stooped to glance the ball into the corner. The sun had set at the Cottage and so had the away side’s hopes of a result.
No more goals were added but there was a brief heart-in-mouth moment as Betts received the ball in his six-yard area and took a little too long before playing out a rushed pass to a blue shirt, which drew a foul from Mitro…but then what game would be complete without at least one nervy defensive moment?! The half time whistle soon blew and the stats confirmed that it had indeed been one-sided; 89% possession to the home side. The ghost of Slav looked down on the Cottage (or perhaps watched on an oversized TV in his gold-plated home in Qatar) and nodded his approval. Although to be fair, this early in the season was a bit early for Slav-ball to be in full swing; this was Tigana-era dominance.
As the second half kicked off, it seemed Harris had given his players a bit of the old hairdryer treatment and only a scuffed shot from a couple of yards out from Aubrey Cairney’s godfather (probably) prevented the south-east Londoners getting back into it. A couple of minutes later and a defensive mixup saw another chance for the away side but that was the last of the hospitality afforded to the visitors.
Up the other end, Steven Sessegnon showed his attacking threat with his cross from the right being deflected onto the crossbar and out for a corner. However whilst the corner came to nothing it wouldn’t take long for Fulham to have an opportunity from another set-piece. This time a penalty as Mitro couldn’t control a strong pass from Harry Arter but as he turned to rescue the ball, Millwall’s Polish shot-stopper dived to grab it but a big Serbian toe pushed it away from him and he ended up bringing the No.9 down. There would be no arguing that he had been touched this time around! With no AK on the pitch to try and take the opportunity away from him (as Gentleman Jim quipped), our favourite Balkan blasted the ball past the helpless keeper to make it 3-0 with over half an hour to play.
Three became four shortly after the hour mark, as Captain Cairney played a wonderful ball over the ragged defence into the path of Cav who held off a couple of Lions, rounded the keeper and, despite a little stumble, made no mistake in front of the Hammy End.
Game well and truly over.
As the game drew to a close, Scott was able to give a few key players a rest, with TC, Arter and Cav making way for Bobby Reid, Kmac and AK…with AK replacing Cav in what has to be one of the most like-for-like substitutions possible; except one appears to be much better than the other…
We even managed to get a glimpse of what might happen if S. Sess found himself playing central midfield…not sure what that family were feeding the kids when they were growing up but certainly wasn’t Findus Crispy Pancakes! Or maybe it was and that’s where I went wrong…
The remaining away fans did have cause to celebrate (albeit in a muted fashion) when Bradshaw snuck in between Mawson and Ream, but the assistant’s flagged confirmed what I’m sure the centre back pairing already knew and the clean sheet remained intact.
And that was that. The final whistle blew and even with only 79% possession in the second half, it was a very comfortable night’s work. Three wins on the trot have banished the misery of that opening game and the players really seem to be enjoying the style of play that Parker is implementing. There will be blips along the way of course, but the early signs are certainly promising and the front three are clearly going to be devastating at times. And touch wood, Mawson and Ream are looking comfortable together, so let’s hope that Alfie has a personal lace tie-er this season to avoid any mishaps.
As is the way with the Championship, the games come thick and fast and the players have 2 days to recover before welcoming Sabri Lamouchi’s Nottingham Forest team to SW6 on Saturday, so here’s hoping for a bit more of the same!