I’m at a bit of a loss what to write. Thoroughly disappointed is perhaps the most apt way to describe my emotions at the final whistle, as Town players laid dejected and spread on the Wembley pitch, soundly beaten.
Yesterday morning was full of excitement, not nervousness as I’d thought. Before I knew it, we’d arrived at Wembley Stadium Station and in the shadow of the arch, on an unusually damp and cold May Bank Holiday weekend.
Millwall fans arrived by every means, including by open top bus, using the height and lack of roof advantage to great effect with an aerial bombardment on Town fans outside the Greyhound Pub.
This was my second visit the the new Wembley. The first, and first football match played in the rebuilt ground, was the England versus Italy u21 game which ended 3-3. So I knew what to expect, but I was still overwhelmed by view of the bowl on the way out of the concourse to take our seats, with our overpriced meal deal.
The less said about the first half the better. From the off it was the worst performance I’d seen this season. Millwall were more determined and ready, quickly moving to deny us any meaningful possession and always first to the ball. Our efforts were only speculative, from distance and I can’t recall the Millwall goalkeeper Forde making a save.
Soon into this opening play I realised there was something lacking.
Wembley is such a difficult place for a team to perform when behind and under performing. The cavernous stadium swallowed what little atmosphere was generated by the dispersed Town faithful, lost amongst 32,000 Swindonians in the west end at Wembley.
Of course, with our average attendance only just over the 8,000 mark, there were many, rightfully, out for the day to support their hometown club. These supporters, more than others, really needed the team to inspire them, to get them going, by at least a few shots on goal and a period of sustained pressure, but nothing materialised either on the pitch or in the stands. Ultimately there wasn’t any inspiration, so it was only expected that the Millwall fans dominated and drowned out the Town support throughout the game. This of course only perpetuated the cycle, resulting in the Town eleven looking anxious and playing a tense game. Millwall were soon 1 nil up.
Even though Town came out firing straight after Wilson’s half time words, it was actually Millwall who remained resolute, having the better chances again, where for a time the 1-0 scoreline flattered us. They continued to stifle the midfield and restricted JP McGovern and Ward on the wings. We did manage to test Forde through Jean-Francois’ header, but one clear opportunity stood out.
It came from perhaps the only Millwall mistake of the game. Charlie Austin took advantage and was clear through on goal, one on one with Forde, but his shot went wide of the post when almost nailed on to score. After seeing the replay today the ball clearly bobbles at the crucial moment, but I didn’t notice this at the game and I went away doubtless that this was our lost opportunity.
I could criticise the pitch, but I won’t. Both teams played on the same surface and there were times Millwall, Morison I think, had a few scuffed shots which could equally be down to the poor quality surface. Also, as readers will recall, I pointed out a few weeks back after Portsmouth beat Tottenham in the FA Cup Semi, the state of the Wembley pitch was far from ideal in our greatest moment in 1969.
In the end, despite another last minute Austin effort which was turned past the post, we cannot blame Austin for missing the great chance. As Wilson said post match, he is clearly responsible for getting us to Wembley in the first place. Also, the fact there was only one excellent opportunity stands out is a clear indication of the poor team performance, as we didn’t create it, we didn’t create anything.
So after the final what have we learnt? Well.. we have completed the whole season failing to win a game after conceding first, that is now 19 games. This team mentality needs to be addressed over pre-season, as this tag is one our opposition are clearly aware of and use to full effect. Also… Millwall wanted it more and got what they deserved.
Despite the loss and obvious disappointment that I’m feeling still a day later, I’m proud that we finished the season at Wembley, except for the result, manner of the defeat and losing the unbeaten records which were perhaps unique to us.