Tranmere Rovers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0
FOUR minutes from time, Millwall's player-manager Mick McCarthy contributed to this fraught and flawed match with a dipping volley. Having risen from the bench in disbelief after his team had had a goal disallowed for offside, he applied his boot not to the ball but to the trainer's bucket.
The touchline diversion perfectly expressed the home side's frustration as they strove in vain to distance themselves from the team threatening to take their place in the First Division play-off area.
McCarthy's action was at least a measure of the civilised change which has taken place at a club preparing to move up the road to a plush new stadium next season. There was a time at The Den when such a decision by the referee would have precipitated a kicking for people rather than plastic.
But Saturday provided insufficient evidence that Millwall can start their new life at Senegal Fields in the Premier League. McCarthy was - how should one say - sceptical about the officials' ability to discern an offside amid the frantic late melee from which John Kerr prodded the ball over the line. By then, however, his side could count themselves fortunate not to be three goals - and one man - down.
Had Tranmere's chances fallen to natural goalscorers, they would have travelled back to Merseyside with a place in the top six. But long-term injuries to Ian Muir, Steve Cooper and John Aldridge, and the absence of Tommy Coyne, whose wife had given birth the day before, left them reliant up front upon Pat Nevin, playing alongside a barely fit Chris Malkin.
Nevin is a lovely player who scores lovely goals; but a reliable scorer he is not, as he demonstrated at the end of each half when Tranmere's policy of hitting Millwall on the break left him clear. His first effort was chipped cutely over the home keeper, but rolled beyond the far post; his second, seven minutes from time, was also dragged wide. Mark Proctor also failed to find the required touch two minutes before the break when Nevin's awkward cross presented him with a clear header.
The visitors' cheery segment of travelling fans were also entitled to feel aggrieved after 72 minutes when Millwall's centre-half Tony McCarthy, having misjudged a high ball, brought down Nevin as he set off on another clear scamper towards goal. Under the current guidelines the referee should have sent McCarthy off. Instead, inexplicably, he booked him. Even with a full complement, apart from their disallowed goal and a sharp drive from Malcolm Allen just before the hour, Millwall were unable to turn possession into chances.
Millwall: Keller; Cunningham, Dawes, May (Roberts, 57), T McCarthy, Maguire, Rae, Goodman (Kerr, 74), Allen, Moralee, Barber.
Tranmere Rovers: Nixon; Higgins, Brannan, Irons, Proctor, Vickers, Mungall, Martindale, Malkin, Nevin, Thomas. Substitutes not used: Hughes, McNab.
Referee: D J Gallagher (Banbury).Reuse content