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Town 1-3 Millwall
Town 1-3 Millwall
Saturday, 13th Mar 2004 18:49

Town will blame poor defending and Sunday league refereeing for their 3-1 home defeat to Millwall. Neil Harris and Darren Ward both scored netted, before Harris was credited with another goal, although the ball had clearly not crossed the line. Darren Bent grabbed a consolation for the Blues.

On-loan keeper Andy Marshall lined up for the visitors, his name receiving boos when read out of the PA, although he was later applauded by the North Stand when he took his place between the sticks. Later, songs directed towards him were less than supportive.

Millwall, attacking the Greene King Stand end, got their first opportunity of the game in the third minute when Fabian Wilnis was penalised for a foul on the edge of the area. Tim Cahill's freekick cannoned off the Town wall and away.

Shefki Kuqi headed the Blues' first chance of the half straight at Marshall from a right-wing Jermaine Wright cross.

On 8 Kelvin Davis saved well from Mark McCammon's shot from just inside the Town area.

Soon after, Tommy Miller latched on to a Kuqi backheel and sent a ball across the face of goal, Jermaine Wright just prevented from getting on to the ball by a defender. After the ball had been sent back in from the left, Westlake struck a shot just wide.

On 21 the North Stand was singing Swing Low Sweet Chariot after Fabian Wilnis had narrowly avoided a yellow card for what very much looked like a rugby tackle.

The game ground to a five or six minute halt on 24 when Drissa Diallo and Mark McCammon clashed heads inside the Town box. Both players received lengthy treatment, McCammon appearing to have been knocked unconscious.

Diallo eventually got to his feet but had suffered a bad cut to the head and disappeared down the tunnel for stitches. McCammon departed on a stretcher soon afterwards and was replaced with Neil Harris.

A couple of minutes later, as the half hour approached, Town also decided to make a substitution, Richard Naylor, a former Millwall loanee, replacing Diallo.

The change unsettled Town as they prepared to defend a Millwall freekick from the centre circle. Kevin Muscat's ball was headed by Daniele Dichio and an unshackled Neil Harris finished from close in with Richard Naylor appearing to be the man charged with marking him.

On 36 Fabian Wilnis picked up a yellow card for a foul on Harris before the visitors went two in front. A corner was cleared to the Millwall left, from where Harris crossed into the box. Central defender Ward, with no Town player anywhere near him, beat Davis to his left.

The game was yet to settle into any pattern and Town were already two goals down. Darren Bent sought to reduce the arrears in the 38th minute with a header from a Westlake cross which went well past Marshall's post.

Town's woes were further compounded as Georges Santos went down after a clash of heads with Tim Cahill. The Frenchman recently suffered a nose injury in the game at Stoke and appeared to have taken a blow to it again. After treatment he went off down the tunnel and never returned, Martijn Reuser replacing him in first half injury time.

Surprisingly, given the long stoppages for the McCammon, Diallo and Santos injuries, referee Mike Riley added on only five minutes, something like half the time which had actually been lost seeing to the injured players.

The Blues were booed off at half-time, as they are whenever they are behind at home at the break these days. The 45 minutes couldn't really have got any worse, two goals down and both centre-halves off injured.

Shefki Kuqi, disappointing in recent games, was replaced at half-time, Dean Bowditch coming on alongside Darren Bent and giving the forward line a very pacy look about it.

The second period was only three minutes old when the most controversial incident of the afternoon took place. Ifill sent a freekick into the box which Harris headed backwards off the bar, Davis scrambling away and then blocking a rebound.

The ball had clearly not crossed the line at any stage, but with no Millwall player appealing for a goal, linesman Mr Turner signalled for a goal, referee Riley agreeing with him before being surrounded by angry and amazed Town players.

It was a cruel blow for the Blues, luck seemingly as lacking as defensive organisation at present.

Five minutes later Town got a goal back, Bowditch breaking down the right and crossing low for Bent who beat Marshall from close range.

Millwall, still two goals up, were content to spend the second half defending from the edge of their box and catching Town on rare breaks. The Blues passed the ball round with far greater aplomb than in the opening 45 minutes as they searched for an opening.

On 57 Reuser went close with a 20-yard strike after Darren Bent had laid the ball off to him on the edge of the area.

A rare Millwall attack ended with Ward heading over the bar before Town had what looked like a good shout for a penalty, when Ian Westlake seemed to be tripped in the box. However, as so often during the game, Town got nothing from referee Riley.

Jim Magilton headed a Reuser cross wide and Bowditch forced a good save from Marshall, the youngster shooting powerfully from a tight angle on the right.

Kevin Muscat picked up a yellow card for a foul on Westlake in the 71st minute, Reuser putting the freekick on to the roof of the net from 35 yards.

Jermaine Wright volleyed a half-cleared corner over from the edge of the area on 73, before David Livermore was cautioned for a foul on Fabian Wilnis with the Dutchman breaking well down the right.

Neil Harris, looking for a hat trick, shot wide in the 80th minute. At the other end Jermaine Wright sliced wide inside the area when he should at least have hit the target.

Town's afternoon was summed up in injury time when the busy Dean Bowditch was tripped as he went past a defender inside the area only for the youngster to be shown a yellow card for diving.

In many ways this was the opposite of last week's game at Norwich. Then, a decent first half was followed by a second in which goals were conceded. This time a scrappy first half with little football to speak of from either side, saw the Blues two-down, poor marking at set pieces again to blame.

The loss of the two central defenders was unfortunate and undoubtedly contributed to the defeat, but once again many of the same defensive issues familiar from the last two seasons were all too evident.

Town were better in the second half, but once the highly dubious third goal had been awarded by the again awful Mike Riley, the game was effectively over.

Darren Bent took his goal well and Dean Bowditch put in probably his best display of what has been a disappointing season – in both the first and reserve teams - and may well get more of a chance during the remainder of the season.

Defender Matt Richards was probably the pick of the Town side with Kelvin Davis again conceding without really putting a foot wrong.

Town have now dropped to ninth and, if performances continue in the inconsistent vein they have since Christmas, a play-off place looks to be more of a possibility than a probability.

Town: Davis, Wilnis, Richards, Santos (Reuser 45), Diallo (Naylor 31), Magilton, Miller, Westlake, Wright, Kuqi (Bowditch 46), Bent.

Photo: Action Images

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