"Look, I get it. You guys have concerns. But we've been through worse."
Standing at the terminal in Neil Harris’ head, his emotions were fighting for control of our manager’s actions. After a midweek draw that brought back joy to the home fans after weeks of sadness and anger, the Lions were fearful of what sort of side Aston Villa would produce, but were confident they would get a result against the side currently without a manager.
The game could not have started any worse for Millwall, as a 4th minute yellow card for Tom Elliott was followed in the 7th minute by a Tammy Abraham goal, the on-loan striker easily shaking off his marker and beating the helpless Ben Amos from close range. Grabbing the levers with both hands, the anger from the home fans poured out and their fury was as evident as flames flowing from the tops of their heads.
Millwall failed to react to this early onslaught from the Midlands side and were lucky not to be 2-0 down when Tammy Abraham picked the ball up and left the Millwall back line for dead in the 12th minute. The Lions were struggling to get into the game against a Villa side who were coasting in second gear, and the feeling of anger from the supporters in the home stands was soon turning to fear and disgust.
The Lions started to get into the game and Jed Wallace came close to equalising in the 15th minute. After stopping an Aston Villa break, the ball was played up to Lee Gregory whose great hold-up and lay-off allowed for Jed Wallace to unleash an effort from distance. Although this effort forced a save from the Villa ‘keeper, the Lions failed to get into any kind of rhythm in the opening twenty minutes of the game and any happy core memories of Aston Villa’s visit from last season was quickly disappearing.
The visitors continued to apply the pressure and had a long shot in the 20th minute which flew over Ben Amos’ crossbar before the Lions found the back of the net against the run of play. In the 26th minute, Millwall were awarded a free kick which was taken by Shaun Williams and the midfielder’s lofted pass found the head of Jake Cooper who rose and headed the ball into space in the Villa penalty area. As the crowd sang to inspire their side, Shane Ferguson exploded into the box like our childhood friend on his home-made rocket and unleashed an effort which beat Orjan Nyland to give the Lions an equaliser.
Sensing our train of thought heading back towards The Den and with our joy onboard, the Lions started to get into the game and find their feet. Tom Elliott worked hard to win the ball and nod it down to Lee Gregory in the 38th minute and the latter launched a tempting cross into the visitor's penalty area, but this was just cut out by a last-gasp Villa header before Shane Ferguson could get on the end of it.
The last real chance of the first half fell to Shaun Williams in the 40th minute, after a pass from Ryan Leonard found the Irish international outside the box. Trying an adventurous effort from outside the penalty area, Williams had Nyland beat, but unfortunately so was the crossbar and the ball sailed agonisingly close to being Millwall’s second of the game.
As soon as the second half started, all the sadness, fear and disgust were soon out of our minds when Tom Elliott’s first league goal of the season put the Lions 2-1 up. After a corner was not successfully defended by the Villa defence, the ball fell to the feet of the Millwall striker and his powerful drive flew into the bottom corner and put the Lions ahead. The fans leapt with delight as their side took the lead and were destined to be on their way to only their second league win of the season.
Ten minutes later, the Villains came close to equalising as a low cross found James Bree. The full-back threw himself at the ball, but his diving header in the 58th minute went the wrong side of Ben Amos’ near post.
Millwall could have had the game wrapped up when Shaun Williams’ header went goal bound in the 60th minute, but his thundering effort could only rattle the Villa woodwork and bounce around from danger. Our team in navy were playing with more belief, more purpose and were displaying a sense of pride that had not been seen for weeks and looked to ensure Villa’s recent bad run of form would continue.
Not to be outdone by his teammate and sensing more good feeling flowing through the side, Lee Gregory again superbly brought down a high, long pass whilst under pressure from the Villa back line and hit a rocket from 30 yards in the 65th minute. As the ball left his boot, the striker caught Nyland off-guard, but luckily for the Villa keeper the ball went wide of his post.
The last real chance of the game fell to Millwall midfielder, Ryan Leonard in the 81st minute. A Millwall throw-in was knocked down into the path of the South London side’s record signing, but Leonard’s shot flew over the bar from outside the area.
As the final whistle sounded, the control panel that had earlier been taken over by nothing but sadness and anger, started to glisten with a positive glow. The joy and excitement that surrounded the home stands as the referee signalled the end of the game was evident, and the grief and fear had transferred to our visitors.
Neil Harris’ side had been on a recent rollercoaster of emotions and there was a small section of the Millwall fan base who had questioned the man in the dugout and his tactics, but today, our club legend and record goal scorer produced a display that could live long in the memory of the Bermondsey faithful.
Millwall: Amos, Meredith, Cooper, Williams, J. Wallace, Gregory, Ferguson (O'Brien 88'), Romeo, Elliott (Morison 74'), M. Wallace, Leonard.
Subs not used: Archer, Bradshaw, Webster, Tunnicliffe, Skalak.
Aston Villa: Nyland, Taylor, Tuanzebe, McGinn (Bolasie 69'), Grealish, Hourihane (Adomah 87'), Bree, Abraham, Bjarnason, Hutton, Elmohamady (Kodjia 65').
Subs not used: Whelan, Lansbury, Hogan, Bunn.