Football: Millwall calm on home front

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The Independent Online
Millwall. . . . . . . 3

Mitchell 22, Goodman 56, Tilson og 90

Southend United. . . .1

Iorfa 75

Attendance: 8,283

WELL, what did anyone expect? Millwall v Southend on the opening day of the season was never going to be like Millwall v Derby in the First Division play-offs last May. With the clarion cry of chairman Reg Burr ringing in everyone's ears - 'every time we sneeze it will make headlines' - the New Den yesterday reverted to being the peaceful south London backwater it had been for most of last season.

Nevertheless, the heat generated on that absymal occasion against Derby will take a while to wear off. To recap, that play-off semi-final finished up with two pitch invasions, 20 arrests during the game, the ejection of 30 souls from the ground, headlines of 'Dirty Den', and hotly contested allegations of racist abuse, to say nothing of overturned cars and a sinister platoon of expectorating pensioners - 'Old ladies spat at us,' trumpeted the Daily Star. A lot was made of it at the time, more perhaps than it warranted - there was plenty of end-of-season mayhem at other grounds in other play- offs. But the Millwall reputation is as in irradicable as tattoos. The New Den might sit nicely among the starter homes and post-modernist factories beyond Docklands, but spiritually it remains in unmuzzled dog country in the public mind.

The club has started the season with a suspended Football Association sentence of a three-point deduction and a pounds 100,000 fine. In the media, Chairman Reg kicked off with a rush - 'We can't afford to have a single person on the pitch or not returning the ball. All that nonsense has to stop.'

Clearly, the crowd had taken his message to heart. Their prompt returning of the ball was textbook stuff and must sections of the stand were so quiet you could have heard every sneeze - if Mr Burr hadn't banned them of course.

Anyway, enough of that - what about the game? Two good goals and one soft one for the home side - not a bad start. Millwall looked unpretentiously good, though whether they'll get another crack at the play-offs, only time will tell. Manager Mick McCarthy is still looking for one or two more players - he has already signed one, but did he have to be called Savage? However, Kennedy and May are looking good, and Cunningham and the inexperienced Thatcher worked the flanks well.

Though Southend started off looking the smarter team, Millwall had them sussed after 20 minutes and Mitchell had an easy job to roll the ball into Sansome's net after the keeper had got into trouble trying to save at Goodman's feet.

From then, the home side were virtually dominant, but we had to wait until 11 minutes into the second half before Goodman scored, hitting it left-footed on the turn.

Southend scraped back into the game some 20 minutes later when Iorfa beat Keller with some nifty footwork, but 2- 1 would have been unfair to Millwall. Justice was done in extra time when Beard, who had just come on as substitute, centred from the right, and Southend's Tilson scored a fairly classic own-goal.

'What happened last season - that's gone,' said Mick McCarthy afterwards. 'But I'm sure all you learned scribes will keep it there for everybody to remember it.' Point taken.

(Photograph omitted)