|Pos. 10th (59 pts)||WEDNESDAY 8 JULY 2020||Pos. 18th (47 pts)|
SHOTS (on target)
Boro Roar in the Den
After two consecutive defeats, Boro headed South to the Lion’s Den this afternoon for what many predicted would be another mauling. Millwall were still eyeing a Play-Off spot whereas Boro seemingly looked to be eyeing the beaches of the Med rather than surviving. With Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and Aiden O’Brien sidelined Gary Rowett was hoping to have attacker Mason Bennett available again after a back problem. Neil Warnock had a different type of attacker problem in that he can’t find any who know what a shot looks like let alone a goal.
The Den would be more reserved than usual due to the virus precautions which could be an advantage for Boro as any excitement could be detrimental to their welfare or at least so their last few outings would have indicated. Passion and motivation have seemingly departed a band of dysfunctional and disinterested individuals masquerading as Middlesbrough Football Club. Both of these sides needed three points from this encounter but for totally different reasons.
Team news once again saw three changes for Boro with Spence, Shotton and McNair all replacing Moukoudi, Roberts, and Morrison with what looked like three at the back, wing-backs and two upfront with Britt and Fletcher leading the line. Morrison didn’t make Warnock’s bench unlike Robert’s and Moukoudi. Millwall were unchanged from their last outing against Charlton so no Mason Bennet.
Boro kicked off in a strangely quiet Den and early on Howson played in Britt only for Cooper to quickly close him down. The first corner came in the 3rd minute for the Home side from a McNair block but was cleared by Fletcher. Boro’s first serious threat came via a long ball over the defence to Britt in the box but Bialkowski came out sharpish to snuff out the risk. Eleven minutes in and Johnson then fired in a great ball across the Millwall six-yard box but again Britt just couldn’t stretch enough to meet it. The first real Millwall threat came two minutes later via a corner but despite the physical threat of Millwall, we held firm with the back three looking like an organised unit.
A long floated ball in on 14 minutes from Millwall was cleared by Shotton then recycled patiently by Millwall before sending in a cross in which Stojanovic rose to confidently collect. A Boro free kick 40 yards out was delivered in by Johnson but Fletcher’s header looped up and out for a goal kick. A great ball in from the right by McNair fizzed into the 6-yard box to Britt but this time he was beaten to it by a defender. A Shotton long throw on 19 minutes earned a Boro corner but it was headed out with almost too much ease by Cooper from the Millwall penalty spot.
A Boro claim for a penalty saw Spence go over with Murray Wallace seemingly trying to poke the ball away but taking his legs away but the Ref waived claims away. So far Boro were certainly holding their own and looked equal to their higher placed opponents as a drinks break was called to end the first phase. Play resumed on 26 minutes with a free-kick to Boro, a minute later and McNair launched another free-kick into the Lions box but as a row of red and blue shirts were jostling, pushing and shoving it was cleared by those in blue.
On 30 minutes Boro launched a flurry of balls into the Millwall box all cleared but Spence collected the ball inside the right side of the box firing in a cross in but yet again nobody could get a toe to it. Getting closer but still not close enough. On 33 minutes Britt was bundled over, the free-kick was taken by McNair who fired it goalwards requiring Bialkowski to react instinctively to save.
As Boro pressure mounted a corner was cleared and then sent back in but Bialkowksi once more collected without any pressure. As the first half wore on Boro looked to be the more comfortable of the two sides with Millwall mainly threatening on the break. A good cross field ball out wide from Dael Fry to Johnson was sent in by Marvin with power but it was bravely blocked. A foray down the left-hand side by Millwall then ended with the ball being teased around the Boro “D” before a low shot required Stojanovic to get down to save. A long clearance from Stojanovic saw Fletcher chase it into the Millwall box with a Millwall defender and Bilkowki clattering into each other just before half time leaving both feeling the after-effects.
A Millwall free-kick was fed out to wide left but as Murray Wallace cut in to the Boro box he delivered a clear forearm smash to Djed Spence but not seen by either the Referee or his assistant. Had he seen it it was a clear straight Red. When the half time whistle went both Spence and Warnock headed to the Officials to protest with disbelief. Despite having less possession Boro looked the better side and Spence clearly had the Millwall defence nervous with his pace and skill.
That first half was unrecognisable let alone much improved from the Hull and QPR displays and whilst a draw would be a decent result a win definitely looked on the cards for Boro. Defensively we had looked solid so far with Shotton catching the eye. Warnock will have been the happier of the two Managers but aggrieved that Spence was denied a penalty after that Wallace challenge and again further annoyed that Wallace didn’t receive a straight Red for the off the ball incident.
Boro came out for the second half and huddled near the corner flag where interestingly it seemed that Saville was leading the mentoring and then going on to have a “quiet word” with Murray Wallace. Millwall started the second half with no changes to either side. A long clearance from George Friend out of defence saw Flecther sprint down the wing and in turn feed Johnson who cut it back to McNair who hit it hard but just over the crossbar from the edge of the box. An impressive and positive start from Boro in stark contrast to recent games.
On 48 minutes Spence was blocked off by Wallace and Millwall broke needing Saville to head clear in his own box but with Spence now sporting a huge white band-aid across his nose after the first-half incident you could sense this game was becoming a little more feisty! A minute later and the lively Britt had a one on one with Bialkowski but just lost out. On 50 minutes another Boro free-kick was sent in deep by Johnson and headed back by Fry across to Saville in the centre of the Millwall box but missed his shot entirely, however, Boro once again were getting close.
A Pearce shove in Britt’s back allowed a repeat free kick in the 53rd minute which was sent into the danger zone but as this time McNair knocked it on Friend was adjudged to have been offside. A nervy clearance from Howson at the other end saved Fletcher’s blushes as he failed o track back, letting his man run into the danger zone to concede a corner but Fry had marshalled Cooper and his weak header went out for a Boro goal kick. Boro were now closing down quickly and a few “win back” challenges saw two blue shirts laid out on the turf on the 59th minute!
Rowett then had seen enough and made three changes on 62 minutes, Molumby off for Williams, Mahoney coming on for Pearce and Bradshaw on for Thompson with the Lions now clearly going for it and throwing a bit of caution with it. Mahoney instantly put a cross in and a close-range header required Stojanovic to be at full stretch to pull off an incredible world-class save.
Three minutes later and Mahoney this time struck a low shot from the edge of the box but Stojanovic again got down this time to save with his feet as Millwall for the first time in the game looked seriously threatening since moving from a back three to 442. Just as we were looking under the cosh a ball broke down the right, strong, Fletcher pushed off his marker, striding forward, teasing the Keeper out and then slid the ball across to Britt to slot home leaving Bialkowksi no chance and Britt put Boro into a well deserved lead.
Saville was yellow-carded for an awkward rather than cynical mistimed swing which seemed harsh considering the Millwall antics but the danger was that it allowed Millwall to launch the ball into the Boro box but fortunately once again Stojanovic was strong and dominated his box. Then in the middle of the park, Woods seemingly hit McNair off the ball as Millwall were clearly losing composure but incredibly not for the first time the officials saw nothing. A timely drinks break followed immediately on 72 minutes the Referee’s reaction to the increasing atmospheric pressure.
Millwall were now pushing and forcing Boro deep as Jed Wallace lashed a shot which just went wide of the upright with Stojanovic at full stretch. 76 minutes and Britt ambled off for Tav to come on and add some fresh pace up front and a clearance outlet as Boro set out to hold onto what they had. A Stojanovic clearance found Spence who took out three defenders before being upended again, finding McNair out wide whose cross fizzed across the 6-yard box with Tavernier closing in but just couldn’t get his head to it. Tavernier then conceded an unnecessary freekick on the right touchline for his altercation on Romeo. It was hit in towards Bradshaw but under pressure from Boro defenders, he headed well wide on 79 minutes.
Mahoney found Jed Wallace but Shotton yet again read the situation and cut out the danger with a brilliant sliding interception. 81 minutes and Boro brought on Clayts for McNair and the returning Dijksteel for the battered Spence. A baptism of fire for Dijksteel if ever there was one and simultaneously Millwall brought on two subs of their own, Murray Wallace and Romeo both off with Mitchell and Ferguson coming on to try and rescue something.
A nervy short back header from Johnson saw Shotton shielding Stojanovic to collect low with the attentions of substitute Bradshaw bearing down. Clayts was nearly slam-dunked running the game down near the corner flag yet the Ref incredibly awarded a throw to Millwall. Seconds later justice was done when Fletcher was sent through with Cooper left for dead, despairingly barging into the back of Fletch for a stonewall sending off and Penalty. The Referee once again showed a strange display of selective myopia deciding it was a legitimate challenge and only giving Cooper a Yellow. More importantly, Fletcher calmly stepped up and hit a peach of a Penalty to make it two-nil with a beautiful right-footed penalty on 87 minutes. How Cooper stayed on was incredible but justice was now done.
Stojanovic had to act as a sweeper and come out of his box on 89 minutes to head clear for a throw-in. Five minutes added time came up as Shotton took a throw-in in his on half up to Fletcher who allegedly fouled his marker. Tav then earned a defensive free-kick inviting a challenge as he dribbled the ball out going down to waste a few seconds while Stojanovic walked over to take it.
Some backs to the wall defending helped by an energetic Clayton saw Tav then run the ball up to the corner flag but as Millwall recovered and broke away Shotton came across to block the final ball as had done all afternoon to put it out for a late corner. The corner kick came in with Stojanovic getting something on it but fumbling and out it went for a second corner which this time he punched clear and then collected the return distanced volley with ease.
A Friend throw-in by the dugouts was knocked out near the corner flag by Fletcher to further eat up dying seconds for the final whistle to sound. This was a Jekyll and Hyde performance compared to the last two games. This was a fighting, spirited, battling and hungry showing. There wasn’t a single poor performance. Every player played their part and every player in red gave their all. Shotton was the standout player and MOM but Spence was good in the first half until he was punched, Fry and Friend were solid. Stojanovic dealt with everything and pulled off two game winning saves. Fletcher and Assombalonga actually looked like Strikers and ran the opposition defence. The midfield scrapped and battled, Saville, McNair and Howson were up for it. Even Clayton coming on near the end made his mark by chasing, closing down and fighting for the cause.
The negative was that the standard of Officiating was appalling and has to be one of the worst seen for a long time and there have been some really poor ones. The off the ball behaviour from Millwall was a disgrace and hopefully, retrospective action will be taken when video evidence is reviewed along with the Ref and his assistants being sent down to the Conference.
A great win and an even better three points!