Malkin 2, Witter 53
Ipswich Town 1
WITH a display of passion if not precision, Millwall made sure they maintained their one-point lead over Leicester City at the top of the First Division yesterday. "We can play better than that," their manager, Mick McCarthy, said and for the sake of the health of the game as it is practised by Premiership aspirants, one must hope he is right.
Mindful of how football's top tier is seen increasingly as the be-all and end-all, the Endsleigh League is apt to talk in terms of "advertisements for the game", and the desire to get the lower-division message across is never sharper than on Saturdays when the Premiership is remov- ed from the range of customer choice. Unfortunately, only the most partisan would want to buy what was on offer here.
The commitment both sides made to getting forward at almost every opportunity should perhaps not be criticised, but the lack of thought and craft involved made for football's equivalent of a film with a car chase every five minutes. If there is a lesson for the English game to draw from this season it is surely that it is time to put a brake on meaningless non-stop action.
Some of the first half was well worth watching, especially when Ipswich Town, having gone a goal down after 70 seconds and survived numerous further scares, began to move the ball around smoothly. Their equaliser, in the 37th minute, was a beautifully worked affair, and seemed to set up the rest of the afternoon nicely. But after Millwall had scrambled a second soon after half-time, the boot did the job of the brain.
McCarthy made the point afterwards that his team are finding it much harder to play well at home than away. There was little excuse for that here against a team who were much more positive than most visitors and even gave Millwall the added advantage of letting in a goal with only just over a minute gone.
From a corner that Ipswich failed to clear properly, Jason Van Blerk sent a cross back in from the left. There was nothing very penetrating about it, but Chris Malkin rose above everyone else and head firmly down against the foot of the far post. When the ball bounced back, Malkin seized upon it and shot home from a tight angle.
That this was all in a day's work for a shaky Ipswich defence was demonstrated further when Scott Taylor shot narrowly wide and Kerry Dixon hit a post. But with Ian Marshall and Alex Mathie forming a mobile front pairing, Ipswich were threatening damage themselves. Adam Tanner was not far over with a header from Marshall's cross, and when Bobby Bowry gave the ball away, Mathie should have done better than shoot across the face of the goal.
Then, in the 37th minute, Ipswich's increasing adventurousness paid off. Their Argentinian left-back, Mauricio Taricco, cros- sed to the far post, Simon Milton hooked it back, and Mason struck an emphatic equaliser.
The winning goal was very much in keeping with a game that was now so frantic that even the referee found himself up-ended as a melee of players formed round the ball wide on the half-way line. It came in the 53rd minute when Geraint Williams blocked a run by Dixon to give away an indirect free-kick on the edge of the area. Van Blerk took it, and after a cluster of players had jumped for the ball and missed, it fell to the feet of Tony Witter, the Millwall centre-back, who could hardly miss from six yards.