That’s United’s Carabao Cup journey over for another year then, ended at the hands at Millwall in front of about forty of their fans. The record will state the attendance was 4,005 but it looked and sounded like at least three-quarters of those were U’s fans, enjoying a first trip to the Den since 2003.
Mark Bonner made a number of changes to the team that beat Burton without having a shot on target, although the defence and goalkeeper stayed the same, perhaps a show of taking the game seriously. It was all change in the middle with the usual pairing of Digby and O’Neil making way for Adam May and Jensen Weir, whilst Ben Worman and Shilow Tracey took the more attacking positions, with Harvey Knibbs tucked in behind Sam Smith up front. Captain for the day was Brigadier George Williams, after a number of strong performances at right back.
Both teams started brightly, Millwall perhaps having the more dangerous openings, although the pace of Shilow Tracey was causing them trouble, as was the enthusiasm and unpredictability of Ben Worman, who covered every blade of grass in the first twenty minutes. Millwall had struggled with set pieces this season, and it was from a free kick near the corner flag that the U’s took advantage, George Williams losing his marker to head past the keeper in acres of space.
That was the kick up the arse Millwall needed, and United’s lead was short lived. Shilow Tracey offers so much going forward but can’t defend to save his life and once he was caught out of position and turned inside out by Murray Wallace it was only going to have one result. Our second goal came as the result of a goalmouth scramble, and sometimes those just happen.
In the second half both teams took the game by the scruff, United looking good and not at all outclassed by their higher opposition. We’ve said it before, that whilst we’re not going to win every game this season the least we can do is compete, and make things difficult for the teams we’re facing, and from what we’ve seen so far we’re doing just that. It might not always work, and when it does it might not always be pretty, but it should win us more points than we lost this season, and that’s what’s important.
The next goal was always going to settle the game, an equaliser for United would probably have given us a fair chance at a shootout, but it was Millwall who put it beyond doubt just before the hour mark, Conor Masterson should have done better in stopping the cross, and Lloyd Jones should have cut it out too, but if you give a striker like Matt Smith the ball six yards out he’s only going to score with it.
Bonner then made changes, Jack Lankester getting his first taste of life in a U’s shirt replacing Tracey, and he immediately got involved with a number of cutting passes and exciting runs. He’s not the finished article, but from what we’ve seen so far he looks like quite the talent. Then Lloyd Jones came off, hopefully as a precaution with Paul Digby taking his place in defence, and a surprisingly ineffectual Harvey Knibbs made way for Big Joe, fresh from being rewarded with a years contract extension. Sadly by this point the game was beyond United, but that wasn’t before we came close in another goalmouth scramble, the referee eventually stopping the game due to an injury to a Millwall player.
So, a bad day at the races then? Kind of, but not really. Millwall are a decent opposition, and although they’re not exactly PSG they’re still in a league above us, and we challenged them until the end. This side chased everything, which is typical of a Mark Bonner side. Other U’s teams in the past would have dropped heads after the second goal, and we’d have probably got pumped. But Bonner and Waddock won’t stand for that, and these players know it. It doesn’t seem to be in the nature of the kind of players we’re signing either – these guys want to fight for United, and they’re going to. The scoreline flattered Millwall a bit, but it doesn’t really matter. We can hold our heads up on the pitch. We can hold our heads up off it too. Millwall might not have taken this game seriously, but our fans did, singing from start to finish, and not letting the usually vocal Millwall fans make a sound. There’ll be times this season when your support is worth an extra point, and whilst we’re not the biggest supported club in the division, we’re comfortably one of the most passionate, and can make 1,500 sound like 15,000.
Lastly, the future looks bright. Ironside’s signed up for another year, we’ve one of the best young managers in the country, and in Ben Worman and Jack Lankester we’ve got some proper exciting players waiting to break into the first team. The papers and podcasts might have tipped us for relegation this season, but we proved everyone wrong last year and we can do it again this year too. No-one fancies us? We don’t care.
Man of the Match: Ben Worman was everywhere and deserves to get his chance in the league this season. Sam Smith fought for every ball and was unlucky not to get his name on the scoresheet. But head and shoulders above the rest was stand-in captain George Williams. He had big boots to fill replacing Kyle Knoyle, but he looks more than up to the challenge. A nice goal and a proper captains performance from the Brigadier.
Soundtrack of the Match: The Clash – Clash City Rockers
United: Mitov, Williams, Jones (Digby), Masterson, Iredale, May, Weir, Tracey (Lankester), Worman, Smith, Knibbs (Ironside)
Have you listened to the latest UTAS podcast yet? Check it out below.