"We're going to the zoo, zoo, zoo. How about you, you, you?"
The Rochdale fans booked their tickets, wrapped up warm and jumped on the coach down to the capital to visit these wild beasts in their natural environments. These creatures from South London that had left all others who had visited previously quaking in fear, and an animal that's bite had always been worse than their roar. But instead of seeing these wild Lions in their plains dominating over all those who had visited them, half way through their visit they realised that these animals were tamed and in captivity. Realising that there was now a second animal sanctuary in London that rivalled the one in Regent's Park, the Dale fans were here for the day and enjoying their visit of the Bermondsey zoo with it's caged animals.
The game started lively for the visitors, who were teasing and poking these sleeping Lions through the bars of their cage. Two early crosses in the first 60 seconds, and winning a large number of aerial battles for the next 10 minutes showed that the visitors had free range of the animal enclosures. Looking at their map on the way in, Rochdale would not spend time with the other attractions and had the Lions only in their sights. Playing route one football and playing the ball long into the box, Millwall could only raise their large paws and swat away at the annoying visitors who were banging on the steel bars, and David Martin was the busier of the two goalkeepers in the opening 15 minutes.
After the relentless attention the exhibits were getting, Fred Onyedinma took advantage of the large piece of steak the zoo keeper had left for his feed, and burst in to the Rochdale box. He was about to open his huge jaws and unleash a bite when he was brought down in the Rochdale penalty area in the 16th minute. Flicking out his huge mane and showing his leadership to the rest of his pride, Jed Wallace stepped up and smashed the ball into the back of the net. The Rochdale visitors may have agitated our sleeping animal, but Wallace showed who was King of the Beasts.
After showing their potential and frightening the tourists with their large fangs, our Lions went back to what nature demanded of them: going back to sleep and posing no threat. Fred Onyedinma had a great chance deflected in the 19th minute, but our powerful animal decided to let the visitors re-group and have the freedom of the zoo. The passing was becoming more fluid and if it wasn't for some last gasp defending from debutant Jason Shackell in the 30th minute, then Rochdale would most certainly have taken the present that was presented to them by Millwall in the gift shop.
Not learning from their earlier mistake, a well played pass two minutes later made its way through behind the back of the Lion's cage. Sneaking in from out of nowhere, the group leader Henderson made his way face-to-face with the sleeping beast and left him with a bloody nose, curling the ball round David Martin before running back to celebrate a superb finish.
The half finished 1-1, and was a cagey affair. Neither team getting a foot hold and with Rochdale perhaps just the better out of the two sides. The second half started the same as the first, with Rochdale again running straight towards the captive Lion. Rochdale also decided to agitate from distance now, with a long shot in the 48th minute safely held by David Martin before they struck a clinical finish again. In the 53rd minute, Matt Done got his sharp pointed stick and thrust it into the ribs of our large cat, after he tapped in a deflected effort that looped over the helpless David Martin. Rochdale were 2-1 up, had more freedom and more independence of our animal park, whilst Millwall were stuck in our 18 yard cage and heading out of the FA Cup.
Rochdale again poked their tongue out and mocked the Lion from distance, having another long range shot in the 54th minute that was pushed around the post. Tom Elliott tried to show his fangs and had a great turn and first time effort in the 59th minute, but our visitors were not intimidated by our caged beast. Rochdale thought they had withstood the pressure, but our visitors were caught off guard when Millwall's aged pride leader entered the field of play. With grey tints in his mane and a miserable sounding roar, Steve Morison made an instant impact when he came on the pitch, getting crosses in and not showing he was intimidated by those who had been rattling our cage.
Inspiring the rest of the side to stand up and rekindle some of their animal instinct, Morison was clipping in some lovely crosses and Tom Elliott was unlucky not to hit the back of the net from six yards out in the 64th minute. Elliott again came close, when his roaring header from a beautiful Shane Ferguson cross was superbly held by Josh Lillis in the 67th minute.
Elliott and Morison continued to get in to good space, but Fred Onyedinma was not successfully backing up the hunt, and many of Millwall's chances produced very little bite. Our Lion clawed away at the fence and was giving away cheap fouls in frustration, and a goal mouth scramble in the 78th minute was the best chance Millwall had. The game looked like it would end in defeat and we would exit the cup at the 4th round, before Ben Thompson noticed that one of the Rochdale zoo keepers had left the gate open...
Seizing their moment, Morison set off down the right wing and put in a low cross to Ben Thompson. Seeing the opening, he burst out of captivity and sunk his teeth into the opposition, superbly drawing blood from Rochdale and finding the back of the net in the 90th minute.
The final whistle sounded and The Den was filled with relief. After a game that had potential to show our power, we did not perform like Simba who had taken back the pride lands in the Lion King, but more like Mufasa who was caught off guard and thrown into the galloping herd of wildebeests.
We are still in the hat for the FA Cup, but these Lions will need to show who is boss up at Spotland Stadium.
🏆 Man of the Match 🏆
He was the busier of the two goalkeepers and could do nothing about the two goals that were conceded. A good and reliable performance from the Millwall reserve goalkeeper.
💬 Fans after thought 💬
This week I check back in with Mr. Lucas Ball, who kindly assisted me with my half and full time thoughts. Check Lucas' own opinion of the game here.
Name: Lucas Ball
Favourite player this season: Jed Wallace- his pace and direct running is horrible for defenders to deal with and there is such a noticeable difference when he isn’t in the side. Having said that, Shaun Hutchinson and George Saville have both been superb.
All time favourite player: Neil Harris- I started following Millwall properly during his second spell, and so got to see him break Teddy’s record. What he’s achieved as manager only adds to that.
What did you think of today's game?: Today was the worst performance that I’ve seen of ours. It was clueless. At times, it looked like an Ian Holloway side- throw three or four up front and hope. The substitutions were made too late. Fred, yet again, looked lazy and most of the fringe players didn’t take their chance to impress. Lucky that Thompson dug us out of a hole with an excellent finish. It was slightly embarrassing that we had to bring on a 35 year old to change the game though.
What do you think of the season so far?: This season has been no more than what we could’ve asked for. Yes, with a goal scorer and some better referees, we’d be just outside the top six but this year was always about consolidation and I have no fear about us getting relegated. Harris has done an excellent job for the most part, and with a few additions we can push up the table a bit more next season. As long as we finish above that dotted line, I’m happy but I think we’ll finish between 15th and 17th, excellent for the side with probably the second or third smallest budget in the division.