Some of the 981 supporters who had made the journey from Somerset to South Bermondsey for yesterday's game unfurled a banner before kick-off that read 'Little old Yeovil'. But in their first appearance in the second tier of English football, little old Yeovil proved to have the beating of big bad Millwall.
By almost any measure the Glovers are certainly as little as any club that has played in the rebranded Championship. Their average gate of 4070 last season was bettered by 11 league Two clubs, their players earn an estimated quarter of the Championship norm, and they are short of Football League pedigree. It took them 108 years to reach the Football League, although only another ten to achieve their present status by beating Brentford in the 2013 League One play-off final.
But although they are new to this level, in Gary Johnson they have an old hand of a manager and this victory was almost a textbook away performance. In one of the division's most intimidating arenas, his team kept calm during a spiky and fractious opening period, kept possession of the ball to draw the sting from the home side and won it with Edward Upson's late goal.
Johnson took Yeovil into the Football League in 2003 during his first spell as manager, and cautioned against reading too much into one result. “The boys are buzzing,” he said. “I promised I would give them a chance to prove they are Championship players and I'm pleased they came through. But it's one game. Lose your next 45 and it means nothing. We were predicted to get relegated last year and with our budget we are entitled to be.”
Yeovil also made the most of whatever luck was going as Millwall squandered several promising openings, while Upson's shot took a deflection as it skidded past David Forde. So jeers from the home fans at the end were harsh. “We've only ourselves to blame,” new Millwall manager Steve Lomas said. “We probably had five decent chances and you've got to take them. I can understand the fans' frustration. I was frustrated.”
The Den opened 20 years ago today [Sunday]. John Kerr, who scored the first goal, was presented to the crowd, and it was tempting to imagine that he could have done better than the present Millwall strikers. Certainly Neil Harris, the club's record scorer and now back as a coach, and assistant manager Mick Harford both looked fit enough in the pre-match warm-up to have shown the 2013 vintage a thing or two about finishing. Millwall missed the first chance after only four minutes when Steve Morison, back at The Den on loan from Leeds United, escaped his marker but headed Shane Lowry's driven cross well wide.
The second fell to Yeovil, and Dunne did well to clutch Dan Seaborne's powerful header on the goalline, which helped settle Yeovil down, but the clearer openings came Millwall's way. After 25 minutes a slick move ended with Morison flicking the ball into the run of James Henry but his volley was blocked by Marek Stech, the Yeovil goalkeeper. Then Andy Keogh scooped a good chance over the crossbar after Henry had cut the ball back, and in the second half Stech fingertipped Henry's shot to safety then looked on in relief when Henry seized on his scuffed clearance but shot over the vacant net.
Having ridden their luck, Yeovil obviously fancied themselves to snatch the points late on and pressed forward. Seaborne headed wide, Kevin Dawson shot when James Hayter was better-placed, and with two minutes to go, Upson, their outstanding player, fastened onto a sliced clearance, took a touch and sent a skidding shot low past Dunne. “I got into them at half-time because I thought it was there to win,” Johnson said. “We left it a bit late but it was a nice feeling.”
Millwall (4-4-2): Forde; Dunne, Beevers, Shittu, Lowry; Henry, Wright (Bailey 49), Abdou, Chaplow (Feeney 81); Keogh (McDonald 68), Morison.
Yeovil Town (4-4-2): Stech; Ayling, Webster, Seaborne, Tate; Dawson, Upson, Edwards, Foley (Hoskins 79); Madden (Ngoo ht), Hayter (Davis 90).
Booked: Seaborne, Madden
Referee: D Whitestone
Man of the match: Upson