Millwall are beginning to feel the cold winds that are whipping round the top of the First Division. In blizzard conditions last night, they suffered yet another lurch in form in a match in which both teams had a man sent off before Charlton skated to victory.
That Millwall remain the division's leaders after a run of three defeats and two draws says something about its standards. Even given the difficulty presented by the snow-covered surface, they lacked both the poise and the potency of their opponents. Granted, Millwall had the upper hand for the 37 minutes in which they had 11 men to Charlton's 10, but in the end defeat could have been even heavier.
There had to be a doubt over whether the pitch was playable. Whirling snowflakes under the New Den lights made for a tremendous spectacle, but much of what went on at ground level was equally random. Alan Curbishley, the Charlton manager, admitted that his fear after his team had gone 2- 0 up was that the referee might abandon proceedings.
Charlton went ahead after only six minutes when a Millwall short corner came to nothing and John Robinson led a swift counter-attack with a run up the right wing. David Whyte headed down his cross and Kim Grant bundled the ball in. Everything was going Charlton's way, but they were putting in some challenges that not even the conditions could excuse, and in the 21st minute Lee Bowyer was sent off for a second bookable tackle.
They suffered a further setback in the 40th minute when Phil Chapple left the field on a stretcher with a knee injury, and with with Uwe Fuchs and Chris Malkin both going close, Charlton's resistance seemed at breaking point. But in the 57th minute the course of the match changed again when the linesman spotted Keith Stevens elbowing Jamie Stuart off the ball, and the Millwall centre-back was on his way.
Charlton's second goal came largely as a result of a fierce shot by Robinson from 20 yards which Kasey Keller could only parry. Following up, Grant must have been amazed at how little attention was paid him before he knocked the ball in. "That was the worst we've played since I've been here," Mick McCarthy, the Millwall manager, said. "We've gone from being a team that was unbeatable to a soft touch."
Millwall (3-4-3): Keller; Rogan, Stevens, Thatcher; Lavin, Newman (Forbes, h-t), Rae (Doyle, 69), Van Blerk; Taylor (McRobert, 61), Fuchs, Malkin.
Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Ammann; Humphrey, Chapple (Balmer, 40), Rufus, Stuart; Newton, Bowyer, Jones, Robinson; Grant (Williams, 89), Whyte (Mortimer, 49).
Referee: M Pierce (Portsmouth).Reuse content