“The Tortoise never for a moment stopped, but went on with a slow but steady pace straight to the end of the course.”
The Tortoise and the Hare. The Dog and the Fox. The Four Oxen and the Lion. The Horse and Groom. These are just a number of famous fables from the ancient Greek story teller, Aesop. Each story has a moral and ethical meaning to them which helped mould the lives of those who lived during those times. On a warm evening in South Bermondsey, another tale was written that Millwall Football Club will most certainly learn from.
Although there was an early chance in the 3rd minute when Daniel James blazed over from inside Ben Amos’ penalty area, it was two minutes later when the game really sparked into life. Channelling a modern version of The Frogs and the Well which teaches you to look before you leap, Courtney Baker-Richardson wildly flew into James Meredith and his reckless tackle rightly earned the Swansea man a straight red card. As Baker-Richardson left the field and the away fans groaned with despair, the Lions knew that this game was theirs for the taking.
Shaun Williams had the first real chance of the game for Millwall in the 11th minute, but his free-kick from outside the box was easily held by Erwin Mulder in the away goal. Neil Harris' side continued to press the Welsh team who defended deep throughout the first half and Lee Gregory was next to attack the Swansea goal. Unleashing a chance from a tight angle in the 13th minute, the Millwall striker was brave with his attempt, but his close range effort went high and wide.
Millwall continued to dominate the game and when the visitors did try to get a foot hold in the first half they were met with resistance from the Lions. A crunching tackle from Mahlon Romeo in the 15th minute halted a rare Swansea attack and in the 21st minute the trio of Ryan Tunnicliffe, Jake Cooper and Jed Wallace battled and put immense pressure on the Swans back line that they just couldn’t cope with. Like the tale of the Four Oxen and the Lion, together we were united, however not even the most pessimistic of Millwall fans could foresee that the ending of that parable would be reflected on this pitch by the 90th minute.
Jed Wallace had the perfect opportunity to put the Lions 1-0 up when he raced to be on the end of a Steve Morison knock down in the 24th minute. Latching on to the striker’s flick from a long ball, there was only one winner as Wallace raced towards goal. With the finish line in sight, there was only one outcome but somehow the Millwall winger dragged his shot wide and out for a goal kick when it was easier to score.
Mahlon Romeo continued to impress for the Lions and his heroics in the 27th minute caused the home fans to rise to their feet with appreciation. After failing to take advantage of a corner, Millwall were caught off-guard and Swansea broke away and dashed towards a helpless Ben Amos. Sensing his goalkeeper in trouble, Romeo sprinted back towards the Cold Blow Lane end and superbly nullified the attack and allowed for enough time for his team mates to get back and defend. The Swansea threat was quickly eliminated, and the Lions were back on the offensive.
Millwall spent the rest of the first half in the Swansea half, but apart from a wild back heel from Lee Gregory in the 31st minute, the Lions just could not find the back of the net. Half-time came and with Millwall so dominant, there was only one winner. But as the classic fable of the Milkmaid and her Pail taught us, we should never count our chickens before they hatch.
The second half started slowly, and it wasn’t until the 56th minute that we saw the real chance of action of the half. Picking up the ball on the left-hand side, Aiden O’Brien cut in with ease and from the edge of the penalty area unleashed a rocket which unfortunately could only find the back of the Cold Blow Lane end. Jed Wallace’s long range strike only three minutes later in the 59th minute had a similar outcome, however the Lions were continuing to press against a Swansea side who were content with sitting deep in their own half.
It was just after an hour when Millwall finally breached the Swans’ back-line and found the back of the net. A corner came flew into the box and Jake Cooper’s flick on was met by Murray Wallace who headed past Mulder into the bottom corner. The home fans erupted as the pressure that had been building had finally been rewarded.
The Lions continued to press and there only looked to be one winner. In the 71st minute Millwall were nearly two up, when a low cross came in to Ryan Tunnicliffe on the far post. Launching himself at the ball from only a couple of yards out, the midfielder came agonisingly close and missed the ball by mere inches as it rolled painfully away from danger.
The story of the Bear and the Two Travellers teaches us that misfortune tests the sincerity of friends and in the 76th minute a mistake from the Millwall back line saw the sincerity between the home fans and their side being tested. Mahlon Romeo failed to deal with a Swansea attack and a combination of nice interplay from the Swans and some poor defending saw the Welsh side draw level. Perfectly placing to Ben Amos’ right from outside the penalty area, Kyle Naughton’s drive nestled into the bottom corner and the away fans were in jubilation. The home fans were stunned – surely we would not be punished for not taking our chances? Well that question would be answered in the 84th minute.
After losing possession in the midfield, Swansea were back on the attack and after some effortless and one touch passing, the Swans found themselves with the ball in the Lions’ penalty area and easily placed the ball under a helpless Ben Amos. The dangerous Oli McBurnie was the personification of the Ant and the Chrysalis, showing that appearances can be deceptive with the depleted and defensive Welsh side surprisingly taking the lead.
It could have been a lot worse for Millwall in injury-time, when more sloppy defending resulted in Swansea rattling the post and almost making it 3-1. The late introduction of Tom Elliott nearly saw the home side pull it back to 2-2 with seconds remaining, but he could only hit the woodwork from his close-range header.
The full-time whistle sounded and the Lions were in shock. Despite being the more dominant side and in a game where there should have only been one winner, the Swans had written their own fable and showed the Lions what happens if you do not take your chances. “We often give our enemies the means for our own destruction” was a famous saying of Aesop and against Swansea City, that saying could not be more accurate.
Millwall: Amos, Meredith (Bradshaw 86'), Cooper, Williams, J. Wallace, Gregory, Romeo (Elliott 90'), Tunnciliffe, Morison, O'Brien (Skalak 59'), M. Wallace.
Subs not used: Martin, McLaughlin, Webster, Karacan.
Swansea City: Mulder, Olsson (Montero 66'), van der Hoorn, Fer (Naughton 35'), McBurnie, Celina, James (Carroll 60'), Grimes, Rodon, Roberts, Baker-Richardson.
Subs not used: Nordfeldt, Asoro, Carter-Vickers, Dhanda.