Tired Lions limp over the line
MILLWALL survived relegation to League One by the skin of their teeth after defeat at Derby – but assistant boss Joe Gallen insists celebrations will be muted.
Substitute Conor Sammon stepped off the bench to sink Kenny Jackett’s tired team and forced them to rely on results elsewhere to keep them in the division.
An FA Cup run to the semifinal and a relegation battle with a small squad has left Millwall out on their feet but after the dust settles on a 53game season, Gallen believes the Lions can be quietly pleased with their achievements.
“We won’t be celebrating – I think the players are all a bit too tired for that,” he said. “We’ve played more games than anyone else in this league and the players just couldn’t take it.
“To play the amount of games we have recently – ten in 33 days I think – has been physically and mentally tough. After the fall-out of the FA Cup semi final, I don’t think the manager and the players have got the praise they deserve to be honest.
“It was a fabulous achievement to get to Wembley and we’ve done really well to stay in this league.”
Only an unlikely set of results would have seen Millwall fall through the trap door and Crystal Palace’s late fightback against Peterborough, coupled with Huddersfield’s draw against Barnsley, meant they missed the bottom three by just two points.
And Gallen added:“We knew the scores elsewhere but I didn’t tell the manager until Derby scored. It was nervy but we knew it was in our own hands. Even when Derby scored, we were more concerned about trying to equalise than what was happening elsewhere.”
Millwall knew a draw would keep them up and they set up their team to achieve just that. Jackett’s men were happy enough to hit Derby on the break while giving the home side the majority of possession.
That game plan resulted in a tedious opening with Derby being forced to wait until the 41st minute for their first effort on goal when David Forde parried Richard Keogh’s header to safety.
Millwall, who lost Shaun Batt early on through injury, came out of their shell more after the break with substitute Jermaine Easter twice going close to breaking the deadlock. Shane Lowry then rifled narrowly over the bar but as news of goals elsewhere filtered through, Millwall became nervous.
The Rams introduced the imposing Sammon off the bench and it proved a masterstroke as he linked up with Jamie Ward to slot the ball under Forde.
Derby finished in the top ten for the first time under Nigel Clough but the boss is expecting much more next season from his team.
“We probably need a bit of experience – not 30-year-olds but late 20s – and I think we’ll be able to give it a good go then,” said Clough.
“We finished seven points off the play-offs and while we are a bit disappointed by that, it does give us a bit of confidence.
“Conor looked far better coming off the bench because he was fresh.
“He’s played 40 games this season which is too many. Hopefully I can get four strikers and then rotate them.”
MATCH WINNER: Conor Sammon scores the winning goal for Derby