"There is another holy bird, called the Phoenix, which I have never seen but in pictures."
Monday 17th April 2017. That was the last time that Nigel Clough and the tourists left their homes, climbed on board their hired jeep and saw the rarest of beasts on the Nigel Clough Safari Tours. The last time that they had left their comfortable humble home of the Pirelli Stadium in Staffordshire and snapped with their long lenses the mythical animal that the Burton Albion manager had promised. Recently, the tours have not been successful, those on the bumpy ride had felt short changed and that they were overpromised that maybe they would this seemingly fictional creature. But for the first time since that day in April, the Brewers finally witnessed the one thing they thought no longer existed. That story of legend that is an away league win and 3 points on the road.
Arriving in the intimidating plains of the New Den, there was an air of expectation that these Lions would make light work of the opposition. Burton Albion came into today's game near the bottom of the league and the fact there were no signs of the unicorn that symbolised the three points made the Burton fans nervous. Not many had made the trip down to London. They had seen others be successful over their team and had photos from previous safari tours of animals reigning supreme over their side so many decided to stay at home.
The whistle sounded and from the off, the Millwall Lions could smell blood and fear, circling around their soon-to-be prey and like energetic cubs learning to hunt, knew it would be a matter of time before Burton's fate was inevitable. Almost instantly in the 2nd minute, Aiden O'Brien snapped at the heels with a shot from the wide left which was comfortably saved from the keeper. Our Lions were looking dangerous, growling, snarling. Millwall fans were treated to Lee Gregory outpacing Flanagan at full back early on, another dangerous looking cross in the 8th minute and some wonderful link up play from Morison, Gregory and the four midfielders made for an entertaining opening 13 minutes for Millwall. Lee Gregory had another opportunity in front of goal which he chested down instead of heading in the 15th minute, but the Millwall fans did not mind. They could see that although Burton had come to find their folk tale, that Millwall would make this trip end again in disappointment.
The next few minutes saw a large number of last gasp defending and Millwall's corner count was rising rapidly. Burton were no threat and it was a question of when and not if the Lions would sink their giant fangs in and ruin the Burton holiday maker's expedition. George Saville came close again in 22nd minute when his long free-kick clipped the top of the net and when Burton's mythical beast did try to fight back at the edge of the penalty box, Ryan Tunnicliffe snarled and clawed back ensuring the Lions were the King of the Beasts.
Although Burton had another chance in the 36th minute, they again produced very little and that combined with poor and panicky defending only made our Lions feel more confident that they would soon be tasting the flesh and meat of hunted prey. Aiden O'Brien came close again when it was harder to miss in the 43rd minute, blazing it over the bar from only a few yards out. Millwall would win this game and Nigel Clough's Safaris looked like it was going to go out of business.
The second half started in the same vein as the first, with an early corner in the 46th minute from a deflected Jed Wallace cross. Millwall were still looking for a way to break down the Burton team when a surprise decision from the referee completely changed the whole natural tour that the Burton fans were on. They say when observing nature to not interfere, no matter how cruel it seems, but the referee decided to help out the poor defenceless creature. A seemingly harmless but late challenge from Jed Wallace in the 58th minute resulted in the referee sprinting over, scaring one of our Lions away with a red card. Wallace made his way down the tunnel and the animal our felines had been toying with for nearly an hour was now at a slight advantage. They had noticed the main member of our pride was now out of action and a slight air of confidence started to emerge. The Burton left back Flanagan decided he would be the first to snarl back, getting in the face and arguing with Neil Harris in the 69th minute, showing he wasn't afraid of the leader at The Den.
Then it happened. Something our Lions did not expect to happen. The Phoenix which the Clough Safari Tours had been hunting for so long was set ablaze, unfolding his wing span and showed off all his glory in the 70th minute when Marvin Sordell put the ball in the back of the net. The away fans erupted at the sight of this mythical bird of power and enormous stature. This ball of fire displayed what happens to teams if they do not finish off their opposition and spend too much time toying with them, even at their most defenceless, a team can rise up from the ashes and punish you.
The home fans were getting restless and even the impressive late substitute Tom Elliott could not get the Lions biting and back on track. The last ten minutes were now starting to stink of desperation. Our Lions were now running more like headless chickens, no direction and a late shot which sailed over the bar from Ryan Tunnicliffe summed up Millwall's afternoon.
5 minutes were added on to the end of the game and unfortunately this didn't fire up the Lions. More wayward passing and lack of leadership was evident and after such a promising first half, there was only going to be one winner. A scramble in the 95th minute resulted in the ball landing at the feet of Lee Gregory. The Millwall fans held their breaths as the ball flew in the air towards goal, but instead of hearing the net ripple, there was a loud bang when the ball hit the post. Before the ball could bounce, the final whistle went and Millwall's Lions had been vanquished. The Nigel Clough Safari Tour had finally seen what they had travelled down for. The beast of 3 away points was flying around South London with it's fiery tail ablaze for all to see. Burton had beaten Millwall and this was another performance where the Lions were toothless in front of goal.
🏆 Man of the Match 🏆
Although there wasn't any player who could come off with their head high today, O'Brien did look lively and dangerous early on and could have easily got a goal today.
💬 Fans after thought 💬
This week's fan after thought is up and coming boxer Mr Charlie Wynn. We also have a couple of extra questions from Chopper this week. For the full interview, check out this week's Achtung! Millwall.
Charlie "Chopper" Wynn
Favourite player this season:
George Saville - a good box to box midfielder and does the simple things best. (He also got my 2-1 win bet up against Reading)
Favourite all time Millwall player:
Neil Harris - always knew where the goal was, intelligent player too. Loved the way he played off the shoulder and timed his runs.
Greatest Millwall Moment:
There's a few to be fair. Winning the 2nd Division, promotion at Wrexham away. Play off final wins against Swindon and Bradford, but the best to date probably beating Sunderland at Old Trafford! We're all going on a European tour...
What did you think of today’s game:
In a nutshell, the ref was terrible! As for the football, there only looked one winner. We was doing all the pressing, but no end product again. Tunnicliffe looked good today, I like his style of play. My MOTM.
What do you think of the season so far:
A good Millwall unity within the squad, playing with pride and passion. Harris has got us playing good football. We've not been turned over by anyone, every game has been close and from what I've seen we've always looked good and a strong Championship outfit. Barring Barnsley I hear.
When are you most nervous, being one point up in the final round or when Millwall are 1-0 up with ten minutes to go?
Last ten minutes all day long! The rounds are easy to get through, but Millwall I'm not in control of that!
Terry Hurlock aside, which Millwall player past or present would you get in the ring with?
Dennis Wise. Cos he's little and thinks he can have a go, then I can show him who's boss!
TKO in a Word Championship fight or Millwall scoring a 90th minute winner against Real Madrid in a Champions League final?