Iron, Lions, Zion: Morison at the double for Millwall
It was a bright May day in the capital last year that Millwall previously met Scunthorpe United. That was on television, too. This weekend’s live coverage, however, came not from Wembley but from The New Den. And the Lincolnshire side may have delayed Millwall’s return to the Championship but they returned north pointless on Saturday.
We cannot escape the fact that a meeting between Millwall and Scunthorpe United does not scream glamour. Their play-off final showdown just over eighteen months ago was, nevertheless, a rip-roaring affair containing five goals and plenty of drama. It was a showpiece event which they deserved and Millwall returned last summer to put right the wrong of defeat against the Iron.
Both teams have fought hard in recent years for the right to meet each other in the Championship. Those long, hard seasons in League One now behind them, Millwall and Scunthorpe must focus on getting the best out of their players in an attempt to consign the yo-yo years to the past. Most of these players have been procured from the lower leagues and clearly play every game as though they have something to prove.
Steve Morison stole the show for Kenny Jackett’s Lions on this occasion, as on many others in the last eighteen months, netting two late goals to secure three points. Allowed to leave Northampton Town by Colin Calderwood six years ago, Morison has more than proven himself after working his way back via Bishop’s Stortford and Stevenage. That journey is well-documented but what really stands out regarding Morison, other than the hard graft that sees him continue to progress and succeed, is his slightly surprising style of play.
Morison may be six foot two, but he is not your typically immobile target man. Always on the move, always making clever channel runs and always working until the last kick of the game, he is a nightmare for opposition defenders when the Millwall midfield provide the service he needs.
Which, admittedly, isn’t a hell of a lot. Morison can do it all himself when he needs to. James Henry had scored a superb long-range opener, driven hard into the bottom corner of Joe Murphy’s net, to put the home side a goal up at the break. Scunthorpe created chances in an end-to-end game but it was Morison who took centre stage just before the curtain fell.
A fine brace
His first resulted from a trademark bustling run, evading both Cliff Byrne and Rob Jones with ease before poking the ball across the line from an extremely tight angle at Murphy’s near post. Byrne, Jones and Murphy could certainly all have done a lot better, but it was a goal which summed up Morison’s sheer insistence. Insistence on getting to that ball first, insistence on battling to keep it and, in a wider sense, insistence that he is not just a big lump.
Which he then proved with his second of the evening, punishing Scunthorpe as they pressed forward in an effort to haul themselves back into the game. After winning a header against Byrne, Morison moved quickly infield in anticipation of the loose ball when Jones beat his second-half strike partner Josh McQuoid in an aerial battle. A quick touch of control, a look up and a strike. The ball flew under Murphy to give Millwall a decisive advantage and ensure that Morison increased his season’s goal tally by one-third in the space of five minutes.
How Scunthorpe could do with a striker of Morison’s qualities. Their own forwards are simply not scoring, Chris Dagnall and Jonathan Forte having struck just three league goals apiece so far this season. On-loan Freddie Sears does not look like a prolific goalscorer either, on this evidence at least. For the last two years, Scunthorpe have had Paul Hayes and Gary Hooper to call upon and replacing them was never going to be easy.
In truth, the Iron’s away form is not their weakness. It is their home record which needs major surgery, the club having won just once in ten outings at Glanford Park this season. Ten games, five points and just eight goals.
Still level on points with third-from-bottom Crystal Palace, Scunthorpe’s two games prior to Christmas come at home to Nottingham Forest and away at Portsmouth. By the time Boxing Day arrives, and the crucial visit of Preston North End, Baraclough may well find himself managing a club in the Championship’s relegation places.
Millwall’s winter away
Although just seven points better off – when a Scunthorpe victory would have made the gap just one – Millwall are currently a top-half team. For that, Jackett deserves a huge amount of praise as he continues to work with a limited budget. The Lions have taken seven points from the last nine available and look more than competent at this level, but they must prove themselves on the road.
Jackett’s side face five difficult trips over the winter period, travelling to Swansea, Portsmouth, Derby, Leicester and Norwich over the next two months. To win more than one of those five would be a real achievement.
Let’s revisit Millwall’s season in February and see, with interest, whether Morison is still leading the line with the authority he demonstrated when Scunthorpe came to the capital.