Burton stokes Millwall's anxieties

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The Independent Online
MARK BURTON

Millwall 1 Portsmouth 1

As they say down at the Den these days, Nikto nas ne lyubit. Many more performances like this and the Millwall chant, in English or the Russian of the latest dockland imports, will assume a literal meaning. No one, their own followers included, will like them, and then the fans really won't care.

A goal 16 minutes from time by the most effective player on show, Deon Burton, not only gave Portsmouth a point they deserved for a heroic performance that saw them dominate despite playing with 10 men for over an hour, but also left Millwall without a home win in the Endsleigh League First Division since 11 November.

On the face of it, Portsmouth were in for a miserable Saturday, being reminded of all the things they cannot have, from a brand new stadium to kings of the international game flown in from the east bearing impressive gifts. However, on this evidence Pompey, denied a move on environmental grounds, will be glad to carry on playing at their old familiar Fratton Park home once it has undergone the Bionic Plan (they can rebuild it), and are better off with the goal-scoring kid from Ashford. At least 19- year-old Burton achieved what was expected of him, equalising with a beautiful curling 20-yarder, and has team-mates who know how to help him.

Poor Sergei Yuran must have spent the weekend reassuring himself that he had indeed headed west out of Moscow and not the other way into isolation in Siberia. Never mind learning the local lingo, he has clearly not yet opened meaningful dialogue with the players around him in the international language that is the beautiful game. "Sorry, mate, no speakie the footie," as they also seem to say in Zampa Road. Rarely did he receive a pass when or where he wanted it, and he was reduced to clasping his head in his hands (often as the ball sailed by 10 feet above it) in a gesture suggesting he thought he had been banished to the frozen wastelands. Even his cross- shot that led to Jason van Blerk's goal was the result of his ability to make the best of a bad job.

If Alex Rae had not had to interrupt a run of fine form to sit out a suspension, he could have helped on both fronts. The Scot knows an incisive run when he sees one and can produce a pass to match, and he no doubt also has some handy turns of phrase that Yuran could use on his less perceptive team-mates. Vassili Kulkov would also have benefited from having someone else in midfield who could have stepped back from the hectic whirl.

Mick McCarthy, Millwall's manager, put it all down to anxiety born of desperation to win a game again at a palatial home ground that is beginning to burden his players like a bad debt. "We had great home form when the stadium first opened. We've got to get back to that," he said, adding that his players were becoming "anxious to do well, scared of making mistakes."

Improving Portsmouth, by contrast, did not look in the slightest uncomfortable even after losing their raw centre-back Russell Perrett, dismissed for a rash tackle on James Connor, and the experienced Paul Walsh and John Durnin to injury before the second half started. They were committed, kept things simple and picked better options whether tackling, passing or running. That added up to football in anybody's language.

Goal: Van Blerk (24) 1-0; Burton (74) 1-1.

Millwall (4-4-2): T Carter; Newman, Witter, Stevens, Thatcher; Savage (Taylor, 76), Kulkov, Connor, Van Blerk; Yuran, Malkin. Substitutes not used: Lavin, McRobert.

Portsmouth (4-4-2): Knight; Pethick, Perrett, Butters, Stimson; Durnin (Thomson, h-t), J Carter (Rees, 75), McLoughlin, Wood; Hall, Walsh (Burton, 38).

Referee: J Kirkby (Sheffield).

Sending-off: Portsmouth: Perrett.

Bookings: Millwall: Kulkov. Portsmouth: Stimson.

Man of the match: Burton.

Attendance: 7,710.

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