14 January ~ Promoted football clubs are, to some extent, a little like bands. After working hard to rise to a higher level and then unexpectedly succeeding at that level, they face Difficult Second Season syndrome, where everybody expects more but the club might not be ready to handle all the hype and expectation this brings. Millwall fans would much prefer the big stadium tour to the dispiriting slog around the lower leagues. But two seasons after their deserved promotion from League One and a very healthy ninth-place finish in the Championship, fans were reminded last Saturday of what awaits should they be relegated.
A goalless draw at League Two strugglers Dagenham & Redbridge in the FA Cup failed to provide any magic, Cup-shaped or otherwise. It is premature to describe today's game against a Birmingham side defying major off-the-field issues as a must-win, but the Cup tie at Dagenham encapsulated the two major problems for Kenny Jackett's men: scoring goals and winning away.
At home, the New Den faithful have their customary confidence. But having lost their last three league games 1-0, only managed to score one goal since the start of December, and with leading scorer Darius Henderson struggling with injuries, entertainment may be in short supply. Not that the fans will be too bothered if Jackett can pull his side away from the relegation zone.
After last season, expectations had been duly raised for another top-half finish and a crack at the play-offs. To have them dashed a couple of months into the season after a poor start has been hard to take. With the Lions just one place outside the relegation zone, murmurs of discontent against Jackett have grown into a more vocal opposition.
Although the goodwill from his previous two seasons is slowly draining away, another purple patch like the high-scoring five-game unbeaten run in October may quell the more irate element of support. Jackett knows the popular tune he needs to play. Whether he has the ability to master it is something the population of Bermondsey are altogether more sceptical about. Gary Andrews