Jackett’s Lions roar back to Wembley Way

by David Bevan

Millwall 2 Huddersfield Town 0 (Millwall win 2-0 on aggregate)

London is a great city. There is so much to do and to see. It is understandable that many people who live and work in London fail to see the attraction in leaving to explore the rest of the country at the weekend. Home sweet home.

This notion seems to apply to footballers as well. Fulham have managed eleven league wins at home this season, but just one on their travels. Dagenham and Redbridge squeezed into the League Two play-offs on the final day with just their fifth away win. The Daggers claimed their sixteenth home win in their semi-final first leg, though, dispatching Morecambe by six goals.

If there is one team in the capital, perhaps in the whole country, who can usually be relied upon to buck the trend, it is Millwall. Kenny Jackett’s side have amassed a colossal total of 167 points over the past two seasons and not all have them have been won in London.

Their home record makes perfect sense. The New Den may not reach quite the same level as its predecessor in terms of striking fear into the heart of opposition supporters but it is still a uniquely intimidating venue in English football. You make sure you are in the right carriage on the train to South Bermondsey – the one that is made safe for away fans by the Met – and you are kept in a holding pen for up to an hour after the game as the baying Millwall fans wait for your release.

That was my experience last season anyway. Our players had it worse, struck by coins when taking corners and generally abused to high heavens whenever they strayed near to the touchline. Although I deplore the association of violence with football in any form, there is something dangerously refreshing about really feeling you are at a football match these days. In this age of identikit stadia, in which health and safety law takes major precedence, a trip to Millwall is a bit of an eye-opener.

So their fine home record of just one defeat all season is wholly understandable. It is not the nicest place to go and Jackett has moulded an extremely organised, hard-working team to make things just that bit harder for visitors to South London.

Millwall’s players could be forgiven for being far less reliable when they get on the bus, but they are no Fulham or Dagenham on the road. The Lions have won nineteen league games away from home in the past two years, perhaps as a result of fostering that infamous mantra – us against the world. No-one likes them and they don’t care, as their fans loudly proclaim on a fairly regular basis.

Huddersfield Town have scored over 100 goals in all competitions this season. Of these, Lee Clark’s men struck 52 in their 23 home league fixtures. A play-off semi-final first leg at the Galpharm was a tricky prospect for Millwall, whose defeat there a month previously had been a nail in the coffin of their automatic promotion hopes.

But Jackett’s side fought their way to a goalless draw in that initial tie and the lack of the away goal rule in the Football League play-offs meant that was an extremely good result. Millwall knew they were firmly in the driving seat.

The first half of the second leg went swimmingly for the Lions, who dominated proceedings and deserved the one-goal lead they forced through top-scorer Steve Morison. The visitors improved after the interval but still struggled to break down Millwall’s two banks of four, who worked tirelessly in addition to the industrious strike pairing of former Stevenage striker Morison and Lions legend Neil Harris.

Many teams struggle to replicate their proximity to success the following season after missing out in the play-offs. Scunthorpe United remain in the Championship following their Wembley win over Millwall last May.

Yet it was Jackett’s grafters who prevailed over Huddersfield to return north of the river for another shot at promotion. Captain Paul Robinson made sure of that when he doubled the home side’s lead with a firm header past Town keeper Alex Smithies.

Millwall have shown tremendous desire to put the disappointment of their defeat in last season’s final behind them to return down Wembley Way for the second consecutive year. Again the Lions find themselves ninety minutes away from Championship football. This time, Kenny Jackett’s men will want to return south looking up.

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