The Academy Under 18 team followed up their fine 4-2 win over Bristol City last week with a hard earned, but ultimately deserved 2-1 victory over Millwall at Leckwith today and, once again, they did so after going behind. The deficit wasn’t a two goal one like last week, but Millwall were a more resilient team than the wurzels had been, by the end though, the visitors were probably lucky to escape with such a narrow defeat.
A beautiful sunny lunchtime appeared to offer the perfect conditions for a good game of football, but, as is often the case at Leckwith, a strong wind had a big effect on proceedings. Of course, sat under the stand at the Athletics Stadium you are protected from the elements and so I spent a lot of the first half getting frustrated at how we seemed to dominate possession and look the more assured passers but end up getting nowhere. The first team have been in the habit of taking a half or more before they start testing the opposing keeper lately and until a defensive error with about ten minutes of the half left gave Tommy O’Sullivan an opportunity as the Millwall keeper gathered his chip, it looked like the Under 18’s were going to do the same – as it was, a half hit Ben Watkins shot which was deflected just wide five minutes later was as close as City got to a goal.
Millwall didn’t offer much going forward either – City gave the ball away cheaply to present the visitors with a great chance, only for but the Millwall number nine to drag his effort wide and keeper Richards had to save smartly at his near post to keep out a well struck effort. Apart from that though, the only meaningful action of a pretty dull first half came with the goal that separated the teams – this arrived somewhat out of the blue around the twenty minute mark when Millwall’s number ten (who looked the best player on the pitch in the opening forty five minutes) showed speed, strength and skill to work a position where he hit a well struck shot from about twenty five yards – the effort looked to be on target, but whether it would have ended up in the net without the big deflection which left Richards helpless, is debatable.
Given City’s lack of an end product, it was hard to see them getting back into the game, but, after a very brief spell of Millwall dominance right at the start, it soon became clear as the second half progressed that I had been underestimating the effect the wind was having on the game. With the breeze at their backs, City took a hold on the game as their opponents found it hard to clear their lines and an equaliser wasn’t long in coming as Millwall’s keeper missed his punch from a corner and the ball arrived at the feet of a City player no more than a yard out from goal who needed no second invitation to score a simple goal. As to who scored it, my first thought was that it was left back Kane Owen, but as he was taking all the corners and free kicks from the right hand side, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t him – I think it was our number six who is another one of those players whose names I don’t know yet at this early stage of the season.
Whoever it was, City were now showing a bit of a cutting edge to go with their midfield dominance. Owen’s free kick was turned around the post as the pressure increased, but Millwall then sprang back to life when their number nine (possibly with the aid of a handball) got clear and bore down on goal. His shot beat Richards, but was deflected on to the post and out for a corner by one of our central defenders. After this, the visitors had another brief period of supremacy before City hit back with what turned out to be the decisive goal with around twenty five minutes left. Theo Wharton was the scorer with a well placed shot into the top corner from about fifteen yards, but he owed a lot to the hard working Gethyn Hill who, after a frustrating first half in his battle with the Millwall centrebacks, was now becoming more influential and it was his lay back that gave the captain his chance.
Although the closeness of the scoreline always meant that Millwall were still in with a chance, it was all pretty comfortable for City from then on as the impressive creative axis of Wharton, O’Sullivan and Bowen, backed up by the increasingly impressive Hill, created chance after chance. Hill warmed the hands of the Millwall keeper with a fierce drive from twenty five yards and when his second effort a few seconds later arrived at O’Sullivan’s feet six yards, a two goal lead looked certain – unfortunately, his finishing did not match last week’s standards as the two goal hero of the win over the wurzels stabbed his effort wide. Theo Wharton was the next one to get the chance to finish Millwall off, but his eight yard effort flew wide and when some lovely slick passing put O’Sullivan in again, he failed to get his shot on target. Finally, there was an incredible scramble where the Millwall post was hit and there were three good saves by the goalkeeper in quick succession, but it mattered not – after what seemed an awful lot of added time, City were confirmed as winners.
It might not have been as entertaining as last week, but conditions were trickier and by the end City were playing well in all departments of the game except finishing and it’s becoming clearer that there are some talented lads in this team – I might not know them all yet, but our number two impressed me with his general defensive play and some fierce tackling. Someone else deserving of praise was the referee – I don’t tend to mention refs on here unless they have cocked up, but I thought today’s official did a fine, undemonstrative job.