Forget hot dogs and onions, the smell around the Den was pure testosterone. And they loved it. "I think quiet is the wrong word to use as far as this ground is concerned," the Millwall assistant manager, Ray Wilkins, said afterwards. "It was a bit of a contest."
Given that West Bromwich Albion finished with nine men, a penalty appeared to be given and then rescinded in injury time and Danny Dichio scored and scarred his former team-mates, calling it a contest amounts to a gross understatement. For Dichio, it turned into a bit of a vendetta. But then again, Wilkins was always measured. His players, unfortunately, were not.
The result ended West Brom's charge of six straight victories - their best run, if not their best form of the season. They started as if it had been six defeats. Millwall, with Dennis Wise restored after injury, were in their faces throughout.
Down the Old Kent Road it was more gridiron than any old iron. For almost 45 minutes Millwall picked their passes with the precision - and trajectory - of American football. The head of Dichio was the target. Time and again he was found. The quarterback was Wise and from one of his in-swinging free-kicks Dichio thumped the ball past Russell Hoult. It was his first goal in a dozen games, his first, in fact, since his transfer from The Hawthorns was made permanent.
"It was a bitter pill to swallow," the West Brom manager, Gary Megson, said. His players choked on it. None more so that Jason Koumas, who was criminally underused. Maybe that is why he committed two foolish fouls on Wise. But with three minutes to go in the first half, West Brom were a man down.
It proved to be the turning point. Megson fired off a few "harsh words" and the 10 men, including two timely substitutes, came out firing. Neil Clement burst down the left, cut inside and fed the substitute Lloyd Dyer. His low cross was turned back by the other replacement, Scott Dobie, and Andy Johnson scored. Minutes later and Dyer hit the crossbar. The momentum had swung; Millwall panicked, West Brom appeared compact.
The long-ball weapon began to blunt, partly after Dichio was warned that another foul by him would lead to his dismissal. For the home side there was no Plan B. West Brom allowed them to play in front of them and they did not have the guile to do so.
Still space opened up and Dichio wasted a chance when he skied from Tim Cahill's pass. Then, in added time, Thomas Gaardsoe tugged at the striker and the referee, Scott Mathieson, showed a straight red card. Confusion reigned. The incident occurred inside the area. The referee placed the ball on its edge. Millwall seemed perplexed and eventually made a mess of it. The chance was gone.
Goals: Dichio (19) 1-0; Johnson (54) 1-1.
Millwall (4-4-2): Marshall; Roberts, Lawrence, Ward, Ryan (Sweeney, 64); Cahill, Wise, Elliott, Livermore; McCammon (Harris, 79), Dichio. Substitutes not used: Gueret (gk), Chadwick, Hearn.
West Bromwich Albion (5-3-2): Hoult; J Chambers, Gaardsoe, Moore, Gregan, Clement; Koumas, O'Connor (Dyer, h-t), Johnson; Facey (Dobie, h-t), Horsfield (Kinsella, 79). Substitutes not used: Murphy (gk), Hughes.
Bookings: Millwall: Dichio, Livermore. West Bromwich Albion: Kinsella, Koumas. Sending-off: West Bromwich Albion: Koumas, Gaardsoe.
Referee: S Mathieson (Cheshire).
Man of the match: Johnson.
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