FA Cup 4th Round Proper (replay) – Southampton FC v Millwall FC
Tuesday, 7th February 2012, 7.45pm
St Mary’s Stadium
Distance 68 miles, Attendance 8493
Setting out on this journey there were a few things I’d forgotten to consider. Naturally I never considered I’d have trouble getting tickets, I still don’t. Rather than heeding the warnings of the nay-sayers I’ve always believed things are possible. So far it’s paid off, so I’m still fairly optimistic* I’ll reach my Wembley goal. I’d also not thought of the huge distances I might be required to travel. Obviously this is a schoolboy error as clearly few grounds are as close as my first in Cobham, and those that are close seem reluctant to win. Next up has to be the cold. Hiding behind shades in sunny Folkestone, cold drink in hand, its hard to imagine that one day you might be forced to wear any item in the car before braving sub-zero temperatures biting the docklands on the south coast. Finally, and most importantly, is the moral dilemma that I might actually want to actively cheer for any team other thanWatford. It’s really a tough call. Yes Wycombe Wanderers have always held a special place, as have AFC Wimbledon since they were shafted by the authorities. This season Corinthian Casuals andGuernsey** have also joined this elite band. As for the rest (mkd aside), well polite applause is ok is it, I like football after all, but actively getting out of my seat and screaming… well who’d have thought that tonight I’d scream my lungs out.
Settling for a bloody long M3 journey down, I got off at J14 (as instructed), then proceeded to miss the turning for the docks, forcing me to encircle the city, get caught in a traffic jam, then crawl at snails-pace towards the awaiting pre-paid car park. As time ticked on it crossed my mind that I might even miss kick-off for the first time. A bigger concern however was the ever decreasing outside temperature. When I eventually parked, wrapped up and opened the door to the blustery water-side of the dock factory, it was a nano-second before the door closed again and I wrapped some more. IT WAS EFFING FREEZING. Oh how Peter Allen had chuckled through my radio at reports of the night’s freeze… Oh how I didn’t think it was so funny now.
I diner want to see this when I wanted a hot drink.
Even inside St Mary’s it was perishing. Clearly the players weren’t happy with it either as every single one of them underperformed for the first [blank] fifteen minutes. The home fans about me told me not to be so optimistic as Saints hadn’t been playing that well of late. But I was optimistic about Southampton, just as I had been at the 1979 League Cup Final, sat amongst theForestfans, cheering on Alan Ball & Co. Just like back then the match hadn’t panned out the way I wanted, and just like back then the Saints fans were good to me. One even raised the issue of a certainWatford7-1 win a while back… of course I restrained myself and instead turned to my efforts to cheering on the home team. The Northam Stand was too engaged in cheering on their teams though it seems strange to hear both Bubbles and Pompey Chimes amongst their repertoires.
The game was poor but improving, reaching a crescendo before the break, then drifting back to poor for the start of the second half, improving again before an almighty finish. Against the run of play, if indeed it was running one way, Millwall went ahead. Trotter found himself in shooting position on the edge of the box and expertly placed the ball past Bialkowski who spent much of the night in his own private kicking nightmare. The game failed to ignite though Southampton rightfully equalised when a Lallana close range shot took a very fortunate deflection leaving the keeper no chance. It improved a little from there, with the Saints even having the odd chance to go ahead, but going in at 1-1 most supporters thoughts seemed more interested in the few tea bars that were open.
At the restart Southampton again had some good chances. Lallana missed the target, Tadanari Lee (probably the best player on the park) curled on wide and Lallana struck the cross bar from a free kick. Despite starting to show these nice touches Millwall never seemed out of the game and forced the Saints stopper to pull off three great saves, two within seconds of each other. When the tide did turn it was second half sub, Rickie Lambert, who lifted both the crowd and the home team. Soon both he and Lee had shot narrowly over and it only seemed a matter of time before Millwall would be put to the sword, whilst we in the stand froze to death. Sadly neither team made headway and the dread of another thirty minutes shivering began to consume all around me. And then came the moment came, like one at Leatherhead in an earlier round, when I screamed with joy at a team other thanWatfordscoring. Naturally this was more in hope of being able to get in a warm car far earlier than feared, but as Lambert smashed the ball home with Chaplow injured and just over ten left I was overcome. Just as quickly Millwall broke my heart and equalised through a good N’Guessan header. Some home supporters began to fear the worst. I wondered if I had more socks in my bag.
With time ticking away Lee Barnard wrongly had a goal ruled out for offside. Really the lino was way off the pace and couldn’t have been in line when the ball was kicked. With that moment of luckSouthamptonheads dropped whilst Millwall’s rose. Three minutes of injury time were announced. A minute later the same errant linesman gave the away team a very soft free kick. Seconds later, courtesy of Feeney, the ball was in the net, home fans made for the exits, and the Lions roared their approval of Kenny Jackett. They rode their luck and taken their chances in a very even encounter an in the process given themselves a home tie against premier leagueBolton. If Millwall can find warmth winning games like this on such a bitterly cold night, it’s hard not to think they could do it again in the 5th Proper Round.
(*tinged with a smattering of pragmatism, **my favourite team abroad)