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Match Report: Millwall 2-3 Southampton (Saints Fan's Perspective)

Sunday 18th March 2012
Southampon began their 10-game run-in to the end of the season against a fierce Millwall side looking to rediscover some form on home turf.

The South Coast side put themselves five points clear of third placed West Ham United by the end of the day's play, as Southampton and Reading prepare to pull away from the chasers.

There was just one change for the visitors, with Japanese international Tadanari Lee was forced to sit out due to injury. Richard Chaplow was handed a starting berth as Guly Do Prado moved up top to fill the void left by Lee. Maik Taylor made a debut for the Lions, after joining on loan from Leeds United.

Southampton started the game in assured nature, threading together short spells of passes before looking to catch Millwall on the hop with diagonal passes cutting across the back four. Millwall frustrated Saints and Do Prado was caught by a Millwall offside trap several times early on. This prompted a switch in play. Saints were now linking together passes before looking to spin off and run at goal, rather than play the ball across to stretch the play. Rickie Lambert brought the ball down for Adam Lallana, who rolled the ball back into the Player of the Year's path, but his shot hammered back off the crossbar as Southampton signalled their intentions to Millwall.

It was close play down the left flank that led to the first goal of the game in the 16th minute. Danny Fox lifted a ball into the space that Lallana had pulled open, as Schneiderlin played a quick one-two and made a run behind the back four then slid the ball across for Lambert to slam home via the crossbar. Taylor was peppered with a couple of other shots, and dealt with them with relative ease.

It was a quick counter-attack that caught Southampton asleep at the back, Andy Keogh twisting inside as Jos Hooiveld was caught flat-footed. From the following shot Keogh hit the post, before the ball cannoned off Jose Fonte and trickled over the line, although it would be extremely harsh to point the finger at the Portuguese centre-half. From this point, Saints began a mini-implosion.

Millwall continued to press, chase and harass Saints all over the park. This broke up the visitors' rhythm, which had become slow and predictable. The Lions continued to surge forward time and time again, earning themselves a good few corners in the process. It was from a corner that Millwall took the lead, as some feeble defending gifted centre-back Paul Robinson the chance to lash home in style after finding himself free in the area. The Den erupted, Saints hands went to their heads and the home fans' voices raised.

The stutter continued though, as the hosts charged forwards, continuously exposing the Southampton back-line with pace and movement. Dean Hammond looked to smash a volley goalwards, only for it to balloon off his foot and into the stands. It was Do Prado who was next to try and issue a response before half-time. The Brazilian dropped his shoulder and burst inside from the left, curling a fast-paced shot towards the near post, but Taylor was equal to it. It could have been all over at half-time had it not been for a last-gasp Kelvin Davis save to deny Paul Robinson a second.

The two sides made their way down the tunnel with the score at 2-1, and Saints were probably happy to be able to re-group after a rough 25 minutes towards the end of the half.

Saints re-emerged for the second half having made one change, gaffer Nigel Adkins opting to withdraw Chaplow to make way for Belgian winger Steve De Ridder. The summer signing injected some much needed pace and skill to test Smith throughout the half, who hadn't really been taken on by Chaplow. In fact, De Ridder could've been on the scoresheet with his first shot, as Lambert put the ball into his stride De Ridder's hefty left-footed volley was headed away by Robinson just a few yards from goal.

The majority of the early stages of the second half was aerial combat, as a bobbly and damp pitch at The Den often gave way underneath the players. Saints appeared to be re-entering the contest, with several bursts of energy and hard work before finding themselves unable to breach the Millwall defence. The Lions almost made it 3-1, Hameur Bouazza broke free down the left hand side, but Davis was on hand to turn away the low shot with his legs.

Adkins gambled on another change as Billy Sharp replaced Hammond. This led to a central midfield combination of Schneiderlin and Do Prado, as Sharp linked up with Lambert in the final third. Sharp set about being a nuisance, setting up De Ridder who was once again denied by Taylor between the sticks. From the resulting corner it was Hooiveld's chance to go close, the former Celtic man flashing a header wide of goal and the screw turned a couple more times. The away fans rallied behind their side, who found it difficult to get a flow to their game due to a combination of the playing surface and a stubborn Millwall backline.

As the game entered the final ten minutes, both sides were struggling to carve open any clear opportunities, with that final ball just being over or under hit. An intelligent flick from Lambert allowed Sharp to break into the left hand side of the Millwall area, and his lifted ball across the face of goal was intended for Lambert, who was tripped by Robinson inside the penalty area. Lambert tumbled and the referee pointed to the spot. Now, when Lambert takes a penalty there is rarely any doubt about the outcome, and this was no different. Lambert fired home to level it up with just seven minutes left to play.

It was perhaps ironic that Millwall's main strength had been defensive discipline and resilience, as Alan Dunne handballed to 'hand' Southampton another chance from the spot. A whipped Fox corner from the right was met by the Dunne's outstretched arm, and lineswoman Ms Ihringova was quick to confirm the referee's assumption that there had been a handball. Lambert stepped up again and, you guessed it, scored again to put Southampton in the lead with time slipping away for Millwall.

Southampton stuck to the textbook way of keeping hold of a late lead, clearing everything away without any risky play with Hooiveld and Do Prado on hand several times to head away at the death. The referee checked his watches and blew after a full five minutes of added time, as Southampton kept the gap at the top to 3 points. Millwall fans will be disappointed by this smash and grab Saints victory, but Southampton's fans were in great spirits after the late fightback.

Man of the Match – Morgan Schneiderlin. Another game, another man of the match performance from Schneiderlin. Although Rickie Lambert cannot be ignored for his crucial contributions from the spot late-on, yet again it was Schneiderlin getting the engine room in order. Southampton's number 4 was at the heart of all things good, breaking up play, playing short passes, long passes, nicking the ball away from the opposition and bursting beyond the front line. During periods when Saints found themselves on the back foot, Morgan rallied the troops and grabbed hold of the middle of the park in a tough physical encounter. He was simply great.

Millwall:  Taylor; Dunne, Robinson, Ward, Smith; Henry, Wright, Abdou, Bouazza; Keogh, Henderson.

Southampton:  Davis; Richardson, Fonte, Hooiveld, Fox; Chaplow, Hammond, Schneiderlin, Lallana; Lambert, Do Prado.
Connor Armstrong

Total articles: 8

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