Derby on the boil

Millwall 0 Derby County 1 Sturridge 43 Attendance:7,694
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The Independent Online
MILLWALL'S problems deepened further yesterday as they suffered their fifth successive defeat, and memories of their last win bonus, back in early November, faded into the distance.

Their conquerors, Derby County, are a team on the boil, having risen from the lower depths of the First Division while the Lions have been in this nasty tailspin. The heat at the Den, by contrast, comes from the fans, as they fume at the early dreams of breasting the tape in the race for the Premiership bow almost shattered beyond recall.

It is not in the Millwall tradition to go down without a fight, and they certainly fought here after Dean Sturridge had snatched the game's only goal two minutes from the interval. But their second half offensive was more a matter of frenzy than anything that might dent the composure of Dean Yates and Igor Stimac exuded at the heart of the visiting defence.

The Lions' main hope of inflicting real damage lay mostly with the youthful precocity of Scott Taylor, especially when he took it upon himself to cast off the shackles of the restricted winger's role and roam freely. Just such a diversion saw him leave a couple of defenders sprawling and then take a shot which just shaved Russell Hoult's post. It was all in vain though as two minutes later Sturridge pounced for the decisive goal.

The presence of Marco Gabbiadini, although something of an example of unfulfilled potential, still meant that Derby could rely on an occasional flash of class. It came in the lead-up to Sturridge's 43rd minute goal when he swivelled to take the ball from a throw-in, confusing his marker and making the space for a delicate cross that Sturridge gathered and smacked firmly past Kasey Keller.

Tony Witter's was the first name into referee Fish's notebook for a foul on the Derby striker in the 25th minute, but six minutes later Gabbiadini himself was staring at the yellow card after arguing the toss with the referee. More galling for the Derby manager, Jim Smith, was the sight of Sturridge having the yellow card brandished in his face as it means that the striker will miss the next two games.

There were more than enough combative spirits on both sides to ensure that the game was not short of niggles and vendettas. So it was no surprise that Keith Stevens and Jason van Blerk and Darryl Powell all attracted Mr Fish's attention.

Despite more possession and most of the pressure in the second half, Millwall's aggression was more than matched and rarely did Stimac seem ruffled. You don't captain Croatia for nothing. As another ear-bending from manager Mick McCarthy loomed, Millwall grew more and more frantic in their endeavours, but Derby still carried more threat when they did break and Keller was stretched to touch over another Sturridge shot in the dying minutes.

The new Den still echoes to the same bleatings of its infamous predecessor - and they still carry a touch of truth. The lament for players sold who could really have seen them into the top level is still very relevant in this part of London. As for Derby, they are in with their own shout for yet another season.

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