EVERY season Mick McCarthy has to sell a player or two to balance the books, but somehow the Millwall manager seems to mend, make do, find a few more cheaply and send out a team capable of playing some bright passing football. His latest, neatly assembled crew are now level on points with Leicester City at the top of the Endsleigh League's First Division, at the end of a satisfying week which also saw them oust Everton from the Coca-Cola Cup.
A goal by the game's most creative force, Alex Rae, was enough to bring them the points at Vicarage Road yesterday in a game of decent passing and movement but poor finishing. It gave Millwall their fourth away win from six matches, the other two of which they have drawn.
Watford created the better chances, Millwall the greater number. But there was a lack of edge and penetration to the home side's work and they ended the match looking what they are: a mid-table side. Afterwards their manager, Glenn Roeder, said he saw a thin dividing line between top and bottom in a division of less disparate standards than those of the Premiership. But his team were still the wrong side of that line.
It might have been different had they taken an excellent early chance, when their captain, Gary Porter, found himself in space on the receiving end of a cross, but he set the tone by blazing wide. Watford could do with a consistent striker.
Millwall fielded three, retaining Scott Taylor, who had cost McCarthy pounds 15,000 from non-League Staines - and promising he looked, too. Uwe Fuchs could not buy a goal, however, and sent headers and shots high and wide, when they were not too close to Kevin Miller.
The Watford goalkeeper was finally beaten by Rae, who cut inside from the right and sent in a fierce, left-footed drive from the corner of the penalty area which Miller could only push on to the far post, from where it rebounded into the net. McCarthy said of Rae: "I know he doesn't track and he's a bit daft at times, but I like that. If you hit him with a lump of three by two on Saturday night, by Monday he'd be bouncing back. He is infectious."
The goal came shortly after Watford themselves might have taken the lead. Jamie Moralee sent in Craig Ramage, who might have attacked the ball more strongly, and after Kasey Keller had saved at his feet Steve Palmer's shot struck the bar.
The frustrating Ramage is the Watford playmaker, possibly as talented on the ball as Rae but without the same energy and industry. In these two was the difference between the teams. Now McCarthy has to try to keep hold of Rae and Millwall's coveted left-back, Ben Thatcher.Reuse content