I always look forward to the Third Round of the FA Cup. I don’t know what it is but there is always something special about third round day and I was contemplating this tie with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. About two weeks ago I asked Will and Chris whether they wanted to come along to this of both emphatically said no! I’m afraid the memories of the semi-final play-off tie when we finally secured promotion to the Premier League by that route still lingered large in the memory. I wasn’t there that night but I remember only too vividly leaping about listening to a very crackly transistor radio as Stern John netted the winning goal to give Blues a 2-1 aggregate victory. I had a feeling that there were going to be a large number of Millwall fans who would have not forgotten that night either. The violence and vandalism that followed that game is something that will be clearly remembered by not only those there but others who witnessed the scenes of devastation in the local community around the ground on the national news afterwards. I can fully understand the reticence of Chris and Will and no amount of persuasion on my part could entice them to come to this game. Remarkably, I had never been to the New Den although in all fairness we have not played Millwall very often over the last few years. Jonny and I caught the train from Farnborough into Waterloo and from there made our way to London Bridge and finally South Bermondsey station. There is a protected walkway for the away fans from the station directly into the North Stand. Following an expensive pie and a pint, we took our seats for the early kick-off.
I had visions of this tie being an awkward one as Millwall, newly promoted back to the Championship had been run of good form without a defeat in eight games and having conceded only two goals in the process. Blues made seven changes with Taylor in goal, Parnaby, Jirinek and Murphy coming into the back four and I was pleased to see Jordan Mutch given a start along side Gardner, Hleb and Beausejour. Zigic replaced Jerome and Derbyshire kept his place after a bright display in midweek. The home side started brightly and in the first ten minutes forced three corners from one of which Danny Shittu tested Taylor with a header. Jack Smith split the away defence with a 40-yard ball but Lions top scorer, Morison who has been attracting interest from Premiership clubs took too heavy a touch taking him too wide and his shot from the right past harmlessly wide of the far post.
Millwall immediately paid for the miss when Birmingham broke the deadlock through Derbyshire. Home goalkeeper, David Forde rushed out to stop the former Blackburn man when he was played in down the right by Jean Beausejour. The Chilean winger was beginning to torment the Millwall defenders and was to prove to be the major difference between the two sides along with Hleb who was different class all afternoon. The Millwall keeper could not snatch the ball from the Derbyshire’s feet and the striker coolly turned and chipped home from 20 yards.
Millwall were visibly shaken by the goal and they never really recovered from his early setback and it was 2-0 six minutes later when Murphy fired his curling shot perfectly inside Forde’s near post from an 18-yard free-kick. Just before this kick was taken it had looked as if Gardner might try his luck and I had turned to Jonny and said “This would be far better for a left footed player,” when just at that moment Murphy took a mere two steps and clipped a delightfully accurate shot into the top corner of the net. We could all barely believe what was happening when Millwall almost went 3-0 down soon after when Forde parried Alexander Hleb’s 25-yard free-kick straight into the path of Derbyshire but the ball was scrambled clear.
Referee Lee Probert waved away Craig Gardner’s claims for a penalty two minutes later as Birmingham, totally dominant at this stage, searched for a third. Henry gave Birmingham a warning with a 30-yard volley that went just wide before Millwall thought they had scored but Morison’s tap-in was correctly ruled out for offside. Birmingham continued to press and the third came on the stroke of half-time when the Lions defence backed off, allowing Gardner to put Derbyshire through and he made no mistake from eight yards, dinking the ball over Forde. The score of 3-0 at half-time was surely the stuff of dreams and I was half expecting to be woken up with an elbow in my ribs from Mrs Bazza shouting “wake up your snoring!” 😀
Millwall had obviously had a bit of the hairdryer treatment from their manager at the interval and they certainly came out with more energy than they had shown just before half-time. They really should have put themselves back in the game straight after the break when Blues captain for the day, Scott Dann pushed Henry in the penalty area. Although to some commentators this award looked soft, from the view that I had, albeit from the other end of the pitch, I felt Mr Probert was correct and it was a silly penalty to give away as Henry could have been tracked wide to safety. Maik Taylor saved Morison’s tame spot-kick with his legs and Murphy cleared the rebound and the danger. From the resulting throw in a flurry of activity in the Blues penalty area resulted in a last-ditch clearance off the line by Dann from Henry’s shot but the ball was chipped back in again only for Harris to volley over the bar from six yards. Millwall could and should have been back in the game this stage but their profligacy was to cost them. Millwall boss Kenny Jackett looked for fresh inspiration from Schofield and veteran striker Kevin Lisbie but they failed to create any major chances.
Beausejour served the hosts with a reminder of Birmingham’s supremacy as he surged past his marker before seeing his 20-yard strike crash onto the bar on the hour. McLeish made his final two substitutions of the afternoon when Derbyshire and Zigic came off for Jerome and Kevin Phillips. Large parts of the home support headed for the exit when Jerome headed home substitute Keith Fahey’s cross with his first touch to make it 4-0 with 18 minutes left. This was a good finish from Cameron Jerome who had had a nightmare of a game at Blackpool in the week when he had missed a hatful of chances and he must’ve been relieved when his far post header nestled in the back of the net. However, this was as it should be, given the amount of space and time that he had to bury a free header.
Millwall defender Darren Ward came on for Shittu as we all chanted for a fifth and taunted the dwindling masses of South Londoner’s in the stand to our left. I was surprised that the crowd was only 9,841 given Millwall’s recent form and the history between these two clubs. Blues almost obliged straight away when Jerome had a shot blocked inside the box and the ball fell to Gardner but he failed to hit the target with Forde stranded. Ward put in a crucial tackle to deny Jerome after he raced through with five minutes left as the Birmingham striker hesitated and took one touch too many.
Substitute Schofield steadied himself in the box before firing past Taylor in injury time for a consolation goal and we joined the home fans with ironic cheering at their limited success. Millwall had been well beaten and in the main outclassed.
It was our contingent therefore that went home the happiest after watching Blues put in a clinical and morale-boosting performance. It made the delay in getting away from the ground whilst we were corralled by the police in the concourse outside the away stand for nearly half an hour whilst South Bermondsey station was cleared of the local populace, all the more easier to bear. Despite this Jonny and I made all the train connections that we had intended and arrived home in time to enjoy Stevenage Borough achieve a splendid and deserved victory against Newcastle United on the telly. This was undoubtedly one of our best performances of the season so far and coming on the back of an excellent outing at Blackpool it augurs well for the rest of the season. The next week is crucial for our season and it is imperative that we continue this good form as we approach the games against West Ham on Tuesday and the old enemy, Aston Villa next Sunday. I hope to be able to report on to positive outcomes from those two games which will be pivotal in deciding whether our season is deemed a success or not.
The Good: The performance, particularly Jean Beausejour but the whole midfield was excellent with the classy Hleb ably assisted by Mutch and Gardner. Matt Derbyshire was superb and unlucky not to have a first half hat trick.
The Bad: Millwall’s defending; for a side that had only let in two goals in eight games they looked was watertight as blotting paper. Failure to take a few chances they did have, especially the penalty, merely compounded their problems
The Ugly: The imbecile that ran on the pitch just before the end of the game mouthing obscenities and making pathetic, rude hand gestures at us prior to being rugby tackled and unceremoniously ejected from the ground into police custody. There was a sign in the catering areas stating that racist abuse, profanities, inappropriate chanting and running on the field of play risked arrest and a £1000 fine. It is to be hoped that the full sanction will be imposed on this moron.
David Forde 6, Paul Robinson 6, Neil Harris 7 (Kevin Lisbie 60, 6), James Henry 7, Tony Craig 6 (Danny Schofield 59, 6), Scott Barron 7, Danny Shittu 7, (Darren Ward 72, 6), Tamika Mkandawire 6, Steve Morison 7, Jack Smith6 , Jimmy Abdou 6. Unused subs: Steve Mildenhall, Lewis Grabban, Chris Hackett, John Marquis.
Schofield (90 + 1)
Birmingham City (4-4-2):
Maik Taylor 7, Stuart Parnaby 6, Scott Dann 7 , Martin Jiranek 7, David Murphy 7, Craig Gardner 7, Alexander Hleb 8 (Keith Fahey 61, 7), Jordon Mutch 7, Jean Beausejour 9, Matt Derbyshire 9 (Kevin Phillips 69, 6), Nikola Zigic 6 (Cameron Jerome 70, 7). Unused subs: Colin Doyle, Roger Johnson, Seb Larsson, Michel. Bookings: Foster 56
Goals: Derbyshire (17, 45), Murphy (27), Jerome (72)
Referee: L. Probert (Wiltshire) 8:
A solid performance in what could have been a feisty encounter. The game was played in good spirit and Mr Probert kept constant control meaning that he didn’t have to flash cards about and kept the game moving well. There was little of contention but the referee must take a share of the credit for this.