"Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order and everything becomes chaos."
The Silence of the Lambs. Saw. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The Wicker Man. The Dark Knight. These are just a number of movies that no matter how much we are behind the heroes, it is the antagonist that prevails. Just when you think the protagonists have done enough to succeed, a sucker punch arrives from nowhere and leaves the audience deflated. Today marked the 25th anniversary of the opening of The New Den, but thanks to a certain Kevin Friend, this would be another potential classic performance that ended in heartbreak.
The game started brightly for Millwall, who were continuing from last season’s great form that almost led to a play-off place. Straight out of the traps like an electro-shocked Randle P. McMurphy, the Lions were the livelier of the two sides, but the evil nurse Ratched with the whistle wanted to show his cruel and biased authority. What should have been a foul on Mahlon Romeo in the 5th minute was waved away, however the heartless tyrant in the middle of the park could do nothing about Aiden O’Brien’s effort in the 12th minute. The impressive Lee Gregory picked up the ball on the right wing and his perfect cross fell directly into the path of the young midfielder. Beating the defender to the ball, there was only one outcome as O’Brien drilled the ball into the back of the net and past the helpless Randolph. The fans celebrated like McMurphy’s friends who left for the day to go on the unsanctioned fishing trip, cheering with delight as the Lions went 1-0 up.
Middlesbrough just could not get into the fixture and were lucky not to be 2-0 down after Jake Cooper’s header from a 19th minute corner went wide of the post. The team that many fancied to take control of the game and are tipped for promotion could not find any rhythm, and the Lions continued to exploit this.
Aiden O’Brien continued to impress down the left-flank and another corner in the 25th minute was met again by Jake Cooper, but this time his effort was blocked in the box. Like in the Dark Knight when the mobsters sit around the table and discuss what to do about Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego, the Joker who was officiating the game tried to intervene and cause more anarchy to the South London side. Boro lacked any direction, finesse, class and simply could not handle our eleven caped crusaders, but with Heath Ledger’s words echoing in their ear, the northern side seemed like they had a twelfth man on the field. “If you’re good at something, never do it for free….” was ringing in the back of Clayton’s mind in the 31st minute, as there would be no other reason why a player who was already on a yellow card would commit a foul, then kick the ball away in dissent and manage to stay on the field.
It was in the 37th minute when our Dark Knights managed to capture our nemesis and throw them into the prison cell of defeat. A defensive mishap was pounced upon by Lee Gregory and unfortunately for the Joker in charge, there was nothing he could do as he witnessed the Millwall number 9 roll the ball into an empty net after a mistake from the Boro keeper. 2-0 to the Lions and when the half time whistle sounded, there was only one winner. Little did we know that in the second half a little puppet on a tricycle would roll onto the field and test the Lions in a game they simply could not win.
After some head tennis in the 51st minute, Jed Wallace superbly chased down a ball that seemingly went out for a Millwall corner, but his appeals were ignored and the goal kick that was awarded weighed us down more than the shackle that Jigsaw had attached to our ankles. Only a minute later, the home fans believed we had managed to escape from Jigsaw’s trap and showed we could survive any test thrown at us, but Lee Gregory’s exquisite cross was literally two to three inches just too long for Steve Morison. The Millwall captain threw everything he had towards his target, but it just wasn’t enough as the ball agonisingly rolled away from him.
Neil Harris’ men continued to dominate the half and as in the Empire Strikes Back when the Rebel Alliance feels they have an advantage, any Imperial attack was easily deflected. Tony Pulis’ Empire tried to attack our Hoth base by force with their more expensive weaponry, but the goal-line scramble in the Millwall area in the 63rd minute was cleared, and our Millennium Falcon flew away unscathed.
Darth Vader with his red lightsaber in his back pocket knew he needed to do something to help his troops and gave a Middlesbrough corner in the 69th minute when a Millwall foul should have been awarded in the visitor’s build-up. Shaun Hutchinson and Aiden O’Brien left the pitch to receive treatment in the 72nd minute, however after they received assistance and asked to re-enter the field of battle to join the Rebellion, the Sith Lord in the middle of the park delayed their re-introduction. The 75th minute was another time when the man channelling his inner Anakin Skywalker put a choke-hold on the Lions, when a ridiculously awarded free-kick in front of the Dockers Stand was crossed in and Ryan Shotton’s header just flashed wide of the target.
It was in the 87th minute when Kevin Friend’s questionably biased ways finally made the Lions pay. After weathering a storm of contentious decisions that always seemed to be awarded to the visitors, a long ball was played over the Millwall back-line and after Mahlon Romeo failed to clear the ball, some nervous defending resulted in Martin Braithwaite finding the back of the net from close range.
Smelling blood and knowing that Millwall were vulnerable, Hannibal Lecter decided to keep playing until the Lions were pulled back level. Getting the fava beans and a nice chianti ready well after the five added minutes expired, Kevin Friend allowed play to continue into a seventh minute and it was the 97th minute when Boro got their equaliser. A desperate ball bounced around the Millwall penalty area and fell to the feet of George Friend from close range. The Boro man made no mistake and beat Jordan Archer from only a few yards out. The final whistle sounded, and the travelling fans celebrated while the referee was escorted off the pitch by two stewards.
Normally it is opposition players or fans that act as the onscreen villain when they visit The Den, but in the same way when he officiated the 3-2 home defeat to Oldham in 2007, it was Kevin Friend who ruined this potential classic. Some may argue that the Lions should’ve taken their chances and seen the game off, but when a referee is clearly looking for any chance to deny a deserved victory, we cannot be too harsh on our team.
Millwall: Archer, Meredith, Hutchinson, Cooper, Williams, J. Wallace, Gregory (Elliott 80'), Romeo, Morison (M. Wallace 89'), O'Brien (Skalak 85'), Saville.
Subs not used: Amos, McLaughlin, Onyedinma, Tunnicliffe.
Middlesbrough: Randolph, Friend, Shotton, Leadbitter (Wing 55'), Clayton (Tavernier 59'), Assombalonga, Braithwaite, Howson, Downing (Fletcher 74'), Fry, Flint.
Subs not used: Dimi, Johnson, Wood, Chapman.