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The Morning After: Gillingham 1-1 Millwall

Millwall's performance was like a re-titled classic C.S Lewis' novel: The Lion, The Witch - because this game too was missing the all important final third.....


For the first time since March 2020, I was back at a football stadium watching Millwall in a competitive(?) fixture. The Den had been open during the 2020/21 season for games against Derby County and QPR, fans were back for trial events in the Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League and Euro 2020, and although this wasn't my first time at the home of The Gills for a pre-season friendly, the first game back for fans without government restrictions and social distancing guidelines in place was a combination of both excitement and slight nervousness...

As mentioned above, I had been to the home of The Gills before, but due to parking in a part of Kent that was curiously named after locations in Canada (answers on a postcard, please? - although I can't be too critical as one of our nearest tube stations is Canada Water), I struggled to find my way to the away end gate. "You need to walk down there, chuck a left, down the alleyway and you're there," the home steward swiftly said, after he pointed in the direction of a road he had not actually described.

After scanning our bar codes on the turnstiles and approaching two lonely bottles of half-used sanitiser on a metallic trolley with a wonky wheel, we made our way to the away bar. I contemplated whether to buy a bottle of the comically advertised 'Out of Date' alcohol for the price of £2, but settled for a bottle of water - although the expired Australian amber nectar was probably cleaner and more nutritious than the local Medway tap water. The 20+ year old temporary stand behind the goal was cordoned off, meaning that us Millwall fans were in fact in a sheltered area of the Priestfield stadium, and after the Medway equivalent of Mr. Bye-For-Now finished playing Franz Ferdinand and a number of other early 00's numbers, we made our to our seats to watch The Lions warm up.

"Welcome to the ground, we've missed having you all here..." beamed the smiling steward, as she gave us the type of greeting the majority of those in the away end do not normally receive by those in over-sized fluorescent vests. Probably due to seeing the artistic spaghetti style sleeves on this year's training tops, a number of fans were taking photos of Millwall as they warmed up, and the players were receptive to the cheers and chants which came from those who had made the trip from South London. Even though we were the away side, The Lions seemed to have had more fans in the ground than The Gills, and a few mumbles and groans from the Medway and Rainham stands (who are apparently the Gillingham 'hardcore' fans) indicated just how much they were looking forward to this.

The two sides entered the field, and a rapturous applause and cheering came from the Millwall fans as their players took the field, although we struggled to see them in their new camouflaged away kits that had been unveiled only several hours before. The game started as a lively affair, with acoustic versions of 'Let 'Em Come' ringing out between renditions of 'No One Likes Us', as Danny McNamara threw himself into crunching tackles, Ben Thompson put his head where the boots were and Daniel Ballard was playing with an experience that was exceedingly more than his years. We started well for the opening 15 minutes, but after an effort from Gillingham's Kyle Dempsey's boot from 20-yards came off the inside of Bialkowski's post and into the back of The Lions' net, it took the wind out of the Millwall sails and affected our rhythm. Benik Afobe was running well up front, but his only effort of the half was a deflected shot that went out for a corner; Scott Malone was showing his usual high commitment and determination on the left wing, but he did not have the cutting edge needed in the opening 45 minutes, and Millwall struggled in the final third of the pitch. The whistle blew to indicate half-time, and the pre-game moans and groans from the Gillingham stands had made their way towards the away end, as a disappointing beginning of the game ended damper than my iPhone's weather prediction for the rest of this week.

The relatively open first half was replaced by a Millwall dominated second half, and although again we struggled to really test the home 'keeper, The Lions dominated the possession and spent the majority of the second 45 minutes in the Gillingham half. Matt Smith and Tom Bradshaw were the noticeable changes at half-time for Benik Afobe and Mason Bennett, and Smith picked up where he has left off against the likes of Motherwell, Dulwich Hamlet, Barnet and the rest of the pre-season opposition, by winning practically every header and flick on available to him. Unfortunately for our towering young forward, those around him were slow off the mark and did not read the play that was trying to be built, and the final third was once again an empty and lonely place with very few Millwall players trying to get in there. Malone was again dangerous just in front of the travelling fans, and two efforts that went just over the bar was followed by Millwall's late equaliser - a perfectly weighted Matt Smith header back across goal from a corner on the far post was then headed in by second half substitute Jake Cooper.

The final whistle sounded and the side made their way over to the travelling 700 away fans in attendance. The game on the field may not have lived up the the hype of 'the first away game back with fans', but a pre-season friendly in the sun with friends, family and other Millwall acquaintances after the 18 months we have had was brilliant. Just a shame that we can't buy any more out of date Fosters that tastes better than the in-date variety....


We Need To Know?!!!

Where do the fringe/unfancied players feature in Gary Rowett's plans?

Two players who were given considerable game time last night were Ben Thompson and Alex Pearce. Does this mean the door is back open? Are these minutes to build on fitness to get them ready for the season? Or are these the type of players who will still be 'bit part' or potentially loaned out next season?

Where are the goals coming from?

Matt Smith looked as good as he always does in the air, but he can't play 90 minutes; Bradshaw has shown glimmers at times, but he seemed off the pace; and Benik Afobe put in a good shift without really troubling the goalkeeper. Our goal came from a defender from a dead ball situation, so are we going to struggle in open play next season?

No Jed, no one else instead?

Jed Wallace is Millwall's talisman, and if he is having an off day then we struggle. But, what if he isn't here at all? Malone did a great job getting up and down the left hand side, but our only attacking and driving option last night was a wing-back looking for a centre forward in the second half who questionably doesn't have the mobility levels required for 90 minutes twice a week. Are we looking too reliant on Jed again?

2020 Vintage

Did you drink the beer last night, and how are you feeling this morning?

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