Upon fixture release last summer in June, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one looking out for the two dates in the season when we’d play our opposition from Saturday, Sheffield United. In a division nowhere near as competitive to our promotion season of 09/10, games such as Sheffield United, and even Gillingham provide an extra element based on our meetings in the past. The fixture at Bramall Lane earlier in the season brought the attention of Aiden O’Brien, grabbing both goals as we went on to record a 2-1 victory, this time around, it was no different as two more young players stepped up to the mark in a 1-0 victory at The Den on Saturday.
The main talking point going into Saturday’s game was how we would cope without the presence of loan winger Jed Wallace, who had been called back to his parent club Wolverhampton Wanderers after a very successful spell at The Den. It was in fact Wallace’s replacement, ex-lion Chris Taylor who stepped up to the mark with the only goal of the game in the first minute of his second debut for the club. In a well worked goal, Taylor found himself unmarked at the back post to lash the ball past Long in goal for the visitors, captain Steve Morison playing a huge part in the goal, running behind the defence and putting the ball on a plate for Taylor to finish.
It was the perfect start Harris would’ve hoped for, with a slightly larger crowd in attendance off their feet early on backing the side on to a big 3 points. The crowd at home games has been stale for the majority of the season, however with three years of decline it has clearly had a telling contribution. Saturday felt different, almost the fortress Millwall we had in the early spells of Kenny Jackett’s tenure, with the fans dragging the players along and vice-versa. One huge task Harris had at the start of the season was to win the fans over, and put out a side we as fans would be proud of, and Saturday felt like a huge step towards just that. Home grown players such as Ben Thompson showing the Millwall way, throwing himself into tackle after tackle and grafting for the side, this in turn brings the crowd into play and contributes to the atmosphere.
Thompson was my man of the match for Saturday, going about his job against an experienced Sheffield United side like he had been in the side for years. Himself and Abdou have both been crucial in our recent run of form, hardly ever losing the midfield battle and making a real impression on games, both are similar with their ability to tirelessly run and chase the game, however Thompson has an added composure on the ball, looking to play the right pass to Gregory and Morison; who were both handfuls on Saturday up front. What stuck out in the memory was Thompson’s reading of the game, knowing the right time to play safe, but equally the occasions to set off an attack, the young midfielder also contributes massively to the work rate of the side, something preached from Harris throughout the season.
It took Thompson a couple of spells in and out of the team to get where he is now, but he is certainly showing the more experienced pros such as Upson and Williams how it’s done to play for a club like Millwall. Williams has been the subject of abuse from fans, with the midfielder often taking to Twitter to call out the fans directing angry tweets his way. To be honest, some of the stick might go too far, but the midfielder has been below par for much of the season and is rightly so being kept out of the team by Thompson and Abdou. He will get a chance on the weekend away to Bradford City, with Abdou unable to play due to a call-up to his national side. I expect Williams to learn from his time on the sidelines, and hopefully recapture the form we’ve seen in drips and drabs from him. It will certainly be an added addition to the side if that was the case, however it remains to be seen.
Another player who impressed again on Saturday was young full back Mahlon Romeo (who was the feature in my last blog post on this site!), another youngster who has taken the opportunity presented his way and keeping an experienced player such as Carlos Edwards away from the starting XI. What is refreshing to see from Romeo is the ability to carry the ball and travel at speed, for a full back we don’t often see such traits from a Shaun Cummings or a Joe Martin, there seems to often be an end product from Romeo also. Perhaps it’s the lack of fear young players often bring into the side. Again, we will be without Romeo on the weekend, travelling to join up with the Antigua and Barbuda side, unfortunately due to being in League One we were going to deal with this threat eventually, with Shane Ferguson and David Forde also receiving call ups. With what is left in the squad, and a couple of call ups for Bradford also you’d think we’d have enough to go up to Valley Parade and be competitive, however I’m sure we all remember the last time we played at Bradford…