“It's a marathon, not a sprint.”
A marathon is seen as the ultimate test of running endurance. Running for a long distance for a long period of time and suffering indescribable pain over the course is something that each participant must go through to earn the accolade and the reward when they cross the finish line. Many have struggled and quit along the way and with the London Marathon only the day after, Millwall Football Club had the final stretch of their own 26.2 miles and would be hoping they wouldn't hit the wall against Stoke City.
It was the Lions who were the first out of the block when the game started, but it was the visitors who would've taken the lead in the opening ten minutes if it was not for Millwall 'keeper David Martin. A deflected shot from the right fell in the path of Benik Afobe in the 8th minute and the Potters' striker looked destined to take the lead for the visitors, but Martin heroically threw himself in front of the ball and denied a certain goal.
Millwall's race plan continued to be affected by their visitors and the distance over the course of the season looked like it would halt the Bermondsey side in the 15th minute when James McClean picked up possession. Unleashing a thunderbolt towards the Millwall goal, McClean had Martin beat, but luckily for the home side the crossbar saved the day and the follow up shot from Joe Allen deflected wide. The Lions were still in the race, but still had a long way to go to guarantee Championship safety for the 2018-19 season.
There were very few chances for the duration of the half and apart from a handful of half-chances, both teams went in at the break without scoring. Although not an exciting or entertaining race, the Lions had paced the distance well and were over Tower Bridge and were slowly taking steps towards Championship survival.
Like the first half, it was Millwall who started the brighter of the two and Jed Wallace came close in the 50th minute when he sprinted down the wing and unleashed an effort from a tight angle, but Butland deflected the effort wide for a corner. The fans who lined the route were still willing their side on and their support was edging Millwall towards the finish line.
The second half of the race mirrored the first and there were plenty of half chances and misplaced efforts that troubled neither 'keeper, but on the final straight along the Embankment was the time when the home side could have put the game to bed and guaranteed another year of Championship football for themselves. A cross came into the box in the 80th minute and after a scramble fell to Lee Gregory, but the striker could only smash the ball over from two yards out.
The final-whistle sounded and due to Rotherham's defeat against West Bromwich Albion, the Lions broke the tap at the end of their long ordeal and had guaranteed another season of Championship football. Millwall may have finished near the back of the pack, but as they were not overtaken by the Millers, Bolton Wanderers and Ipswich Town, the race was a success and the medal around our necks symbolised our stay in the English second tier.
Millwall: Martin, Cooper, S. Williams, J. Wallace, Gregory, Ferguson (Meredith 90'), Romeo, Pearce, Tunnicliffe, Leonard, Marshall (Morison 66').
Subs not used: Amos, McLaughlin, Onyedinma, Elliott, Skalak.
Stoke City: Butland, Bauer, Allen, A. Williams, Ince (Vokes 76'), Etebo, Afobe, McClean, Batth, Shawcross, Clucas.
Subs not used: Federici, Martins Indi, Adam, Diouf, Verlinden, Woods.