Russian revolution on hold

COMMENTARY

It was to have been a Russian revolution in London SE16, the day Millwall would lob a Molotov cocktail through the corporate windows of the Premiership. In the event it was a damp squib, though scarcely of the flammable variety.

Grafting two of Spartak Moscow's finest, Vassily Kulkov and Sergei Yuran, on to a faltering First Division team seemed a sound proposition. There is, after all, a saying, as old as the Urals, that good players speak the same language.

If that is true, we must deduce two things from Port Vale's 2-1 win at the New Den. The first is that Millwall have too few good players; the second that the language in question is not Anglo-Russian.

The last time Kulkov and Yuran had appeared on an English pitch, at Blackburn in September, they made telling contributions to the first of Spartak's six successive victories in the Champions League. Kulkov was the midfield clearing house through whom everything was channelled in a build-up based on technique and mobility. Yuran scored the only goal.

On this occasion, the Spartak Two found the big boot on the other foot. Bereft of confidence after a 10-match run without a win, the hosts were out-passed and outfought by a Vale side who had lost their previous away fixture 5-1 at Ipswich. Millwall were reduced to pumping aimless high balls forward, yet seldom troubled a defence only Juninho or Georgi Kinkladze would consider tall.

Kulkov has 45 caps and has been likened to Franco Baresi. The great Italian would not have been amused by the comparison on Saturday. Kulkov looked seriously short of match-fitness, having scarcely kicked a ball in earnest since Spartak reached the quarter-finals of the European Cup.

Yuran, a veteran of 29 internationals, at least avoided the indignity of being substituted like his compatriot. A target man in the English mould, he is known as "The Tank". Until he becomes sharper, "The Tractor" might be more apposite. He has the bulk, but tended to chug around rather than power through Vale's barricades.

Nevertheless, it is too soon to dismiss Millwall's double loan signing as a failure. Mick McCarthy, their manager, admitted the newcomers found it all "fairly quick and a bit surprising", though that can be resolved on the training ground. Communication should also be less of a problem once they are more aware of the capabilities (or otherwise) of their colleagues.

And as they try to come to terms with the culture shock, Kulkov and Yuran have each other for comradeship. So many of the best foreign imports have been two together - Muhren and Thijssen, Ardiles and Villa, Popescu and Dumitrescu (OK, but two out of three isn't bad) - that it is tempting to wonder whether Stan Flashman brokered the deals.

Those players all wanted to build careers in this country; Kulkov and Yuran are here as a financial expedient. In that respect, their arrival is reminiscent of Alan Simonsen's bizarre move to neighbouring Charlton from Barcelona more than a decade ago. One suspects it may be similarly short-lived.

In terms of reviving interest, however, McCarthy's coup had the desired effect. The crowd of more than 14,000, Millwall's best this season, was almost double the previous gate. Kick-off had to be delayed because of the clamour outside - shades of Moscow Dynamo's visit to the capital half a century ago - and The Lion Roars fanzine had even incorporated a hammer and sickle into its masthead.

But will the part-time fans be back? The sense of expectation merely compounded the anticlimax, especially during an opening half-hour which Vale turned into the football equivalent of a single-party state. Bottom of the table when Millwall led it as recently as last month, the Potteries team are becoming experts at stealing the show when cast as the supporting act.

In mid-December they won at Wolves for the first match of Mark McGhee's reign. "We spoilt their party and we've done it again," Vale's long-serving manager John Rudge beamed. "There are some away games where you pinch a result, but this wasn't one of them. No disrespect to the Russians, who need time to settle in, but I didn't see a great deal of them."

Two players of whom Millwall saw more than would have liked were Vale's Jon McCarthy and Steve Guppy. They exposed the full-backs, Ricky Newman and the highly rated Ben Thatcher, to the extent that Martin Foyle ought to have had a hat-trick by half-time. Here was one Thatcher who was for turning, for whom a single right-winger was one too many.

His tormentor, Jon McCarthy, crossed to create an early tap-in for Foyle. It was against the run of play when Alex Rae equalised after Paul Musselwhite fumbled under a heavy challenge from Yuran.

Vale regained the initiative when McCarthy's ball from the byline was converted by the outstanding Tony Naylor. Kulkov, having moved languidly to close down the pass, was promptly withdrawn. "I wish I'd done it five minutes earlier," Mick McCarthy sighed.

Millwall's free fall could not have been worse timed for the credibility of their manager, who was originally seen as Jack Charlton's natural successor with the Republic of Ireland. Ironically, what his team lack most is a battler in McCarthy's own image or that of Harry Cripps, who was laid to rest last week. Not so much the Russian bear, more the Millwall lion.

Goals: Foyle (6) 0-1; Rae (33) 1-1; Naylor (62) 1-2.

Millwall (4-4-2): Carter; Newman, Witter, Webber (Forbes, 79), Thatcher; Bowry, Kulkov (Taylor, 63), Rae (Lavin, 87), Van Blerk; Yuran, Malkin.

Port Vale (4-4-2): Musselwhite; Porter, Hill, D Glover, Tankard; McCarthy, Talbot, Bogie, Guppy; Foyle, Naylor. Substitutes not used: Walker, Mills, L Glover.

Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield).

Bookings: Milwall: Rae. Port Vale: Tankard, Hill.

Man of the match: Naylor. Attendance: 14,220.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links