As the winner of The Football League's Junior Reporter Competition for League 1, Scunthorpe United fan James moody was at Wembley to watch the Irons beat Millwall in the Coca-Cola League 1 Play-Off Final.Here is his first-rate account of the match.
COCA-COLA LEAGUE 1 PLAY-OFF FINAL
|Alexander 37, 39
||Sparrow 6, 70|
A late Martyn Woolford goal ensured that Scunthorpe United would regain their Championship status at the very first attempt by overhauling a very good Millwall side.
It could, in fact, have been either team that made it back into the second tier of English football. Both sides produced a memorable display and a game that will go down in the Wembley history books as one of the greatest matches ever to be played there.
It had only been seven weeks since the Irons last visit to Wembley in the final of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy Final, which Scunthorpe lost 3-2 to Blue Square Premier Side; Luton Town. Millwall were hoping to replicate the outcome and play against the "big-boys" of the Championship, which were to include the likes of Newcastle United, Middlesbrough and West Bromwich Albion who all dropped down from the Premiership.
Millwall were forced into one change as James Henry's loan spell expired a day after the fascinating game played out at Elland Road, in came Lewis Grabban to replace him.
There was two changes in the Scunthorpe ranks with leading marksman Gary Hooper winning his race to be fit, replacing Garry Thompson, who settled for a place on the England home bench as did Liam Trotter, Sam Togwell replacing him. There was no place on the bench for ex-Millwall front man Ben May, who was the Lions top scorer with 10 league goals the last time that Millwall were in the Championship in 2005/06.
The odds were stacked marginally in Millwall's favour and they created the first opportunity of the game inside three minutes. The only change Grabban, who was picked out by Neil Harris, headed goalwards, but it was extremely comfortable for Iron stopper Joe Murphy.
But it was Scunthorpe, with their first attack, that brought the first goal. Strike partners Gary Hooper and Paul Hayes (who have scored more than 50 goals between them this season, and make up 49% of the Iron's goals) combined and sent Martyn Woolford on his way into the box. He side-footed a tame shot, which Lions stopper David Forde, who hadn't missed a minute all season, changed the direction of the ball slightly, only for midfielder Matthew Sparrow to be running in and on hand to give United the lead after six minutes.
It was the sixth minute of the game when Alex Calvo-Garcia scored at the Old Wembley in 1999 against Leyton Orient, which was their only win ever at Wembley, that game finished 1-0. Would it be the winning goal again?
The first action taken by the second part of the father-son duo of Michael Oliver was on 10 minutes when he adjudged that Iron midfielder Sam Togwell had committed a serious-enough foul for him to warrant a yellow so early in the game. He was then called into action again 6 minutes later when a nasty lunge by Matt Sparrow on David Martin earned him his 5th booking of the season.
Temperatures on the pitch were at over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, by this time most of the possession was coming from the centre of the park, Oliver made sure that any breakage in play would be a good opportunity to get some fluids on board. There was exactly that when there was a clash between Woolford and Forde. The ball was played into the box, Woolford had time and space to control on the edge of the six-yard box, only for his touch to be slightly heavy and in anticipation to go for the ball, caught David Forde. Forde pulled out of being best-man at a wedding to play for Millwall in the Play-Off Final, but it never looked like his game was to finish early.
Millwall came within a whisker of equalising in the 31st minute. Neil Harris managed to get the ball back into the box, which looked slightly miss hit after a marginally over-hit ball. The ball managed to evade two Millwall players, all waiting to receive the ball, but it finally fell to Martin, who made a sweet connection. Luckily for Scunthorpe, Togwell, who didn't know much about it at the time, managed to divert the ball onto the post. The ball was eventually cleared.
Just a minute later it looked like an equaliser was coming when the ball set up nicely in the air for Grabban to volley, unfortunately for him the only thing he could connect with was thin air.
Millwall were gradually coming into the game, and they got their reward on 37 minutes when a long, clearing throw in by Scunthorpe skipper Cliff Byrne was headed back by a Millwall player. Gary Alexander chested the ball down and it seemed to set up nicely. He unleashed a stunning shot from 35 yards. It was a simply unstoppable looping shot over Joe Murphy, who did, to his credit, got some sort of fingers to it, but it would never be enough. The 45,000 Millwall fans erupted Wembley Stadium, they were level.
If that goal was a sucker-punch to Scunthorpe then two minutes later they were dealt a real blow. Martin floated a majestic ball into the box and Alexander was there again to nod the ball into the corner. It wasn't the best of headers, but Murphy fumbled the ball as he went down and he couldn't manage to recover as the ball trickled into the net. Two goals for Millwall, two goals for Alexander in the space of two minutes, what a turnaround.
It was the last action of the half, as Oliver blew for half time. Scunthorpe manager Nigel Adkins needed to give his 'Iron Men' some inspiration at the interval.
There was a Millwall substitution that took place at half time, Nadjim Abdou, who was the hero at Elland Road was replaced by Marc Laird. Abdou was clearly still feeling the impact off of a strong tackle from Sam Togwell in the 23rd minute, there were no chances to be taken by Kenny Jackett as he wanted 11 fully fit players to try to make it to the Championship.
The early stages of the second half really showed that Alexander wanted, and dreamed of, what would be only the second hat trick at Wembley in a Play-Off Final, and the first at the new. He seemed to, whenever he was close to goal, hang onto the ball, whereas normally he would pass, and was dispossessed by the Scunthorpe defenders.
Scunthorpe made their first change on 56 minutes when Sam Togwell, who was already in the book, made way for Liam Trotter. Trotter slotted into the centre of midfield and the tall, player on loan from Ipswich Town made an instant impact by winning the second balls in the air. He was desperate to prove a point to his new manager at Portman Road, Roy Keane, as he was performing for a new contract.
Alexander had another opportunity to add to his goals when a corner came in from the left and he beat Cliff Byrne to the header only for it to tower over the bar. In doing so, he actually flattened the club captain, who was fit to return to play after treatment.
The changes were sure to come around this period as the temperatures were so high and Millwall were next to make a change, Chris Hackett came off the bench to replace Lewis Grabban in the 63rd minute.
This seemed to encourage Scunthorpe forward and Trotter, who was disappointed to be cup-tied for the defeat to Luton in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy Final, nearly made up for missing it. He cleverly hooked the ball goalwards after a corner from Northern Irish International Grant McCann. David Forde did well to keep it out but it found Trotter once more. He managed to turn and half volley it back towards the goal, which was headed off the line by right-back Andy Frampton.
The Scunthorpe defence was resilient in keeping Alexander and Millwall from scoring a third, with 36 year old Andy Crosby getting in some important tackles and blocks in.
Scunthorpe did manage to find and equaliser in the 70th minute when Paul Hayes held the ball up and found Woolford on the left wing. He sent a low cross into the box, and with the defender tracking Hooper, Sparrow was unmarked. After tricking the goalkeeper into diving for nothing, Sparrow side-stepped him and left footed it into the roof of the net. Sparrow ran the length of the pitch to celebrate with the travelling Scunthorpe supporters from North Lincolnshire. Although they were quite outnumbered by the Millwall fans they certainly made up for it with noise. 2-2.
It was then a moment made for Gary Alexander... but he didn't take it. The ball was fizzed into the box and over the impressive Crosby's head and there was Alexander to head the ball downwards, but it went wide of Murphy's right stick. It looked like it might have been easier to score on this occasion and had it been on target there was no stopping it from crossing the line.
Going into the last ten minutes of the game both teams were searching for a winner, two players were wanting hat tricks and the whole of both teams wanting to supply them with one. Although a draw might have been a fair reflection of the game, there was only one team that could make it back to the second tier.
Scunthorpe swapped Gary Hooper for the very pacey Jonathan Forte in an attempt to find the winning goal.
In the 84th minute Millwall lost possession of the ball and Tony Craig took drastic measures to retrieve the ball. Michael Oliver then booked him for the challenge as it was ill timed.
Just a minute later Martyn Woolford got the goal that was to send Scunthorpe up. A free kick was not dealt with in the penalty area and after Hayes had a shot blocked it fell to Woolford. He took one touch, which took it away from the advancing defender and buried a shot underneath the ever-present Forde. It was slightly disappointing on his part, as he would normally expect to keep that sort of shot out.
The ball was clearly in Scunthorpe's half to stay after that goal. Graham Laws held up the board for four added minutes at the end of the game, just as Millwall made a substitution as their final throw of the dice, taking off Frampton and sending Paul Robinson into the mix. Groans went out at the western side of the stadium when Scunthorpe learned the amount of time added.
Nevertheless, nothing could stop Scunthorpe United's players, supporters and backroom staff celebrating a place in the Championship at the final whistle.
Woolford then said after the game, "It's always nice to put in a good performance in such an important game." Just one season ago Martyn was playing non-league football at York City and he was ecstatic at the fact he would play in the Championship next season, "It's a big jump for me, but I'm ecstatic to be making it!"
Millwall: Forde, Frampton (Robinson 90), Whitbread, Dunne, Alexander, Craig, Harris, Grabban (Hackett 63), Martin, Abdou (Laird 46), Bolder.
Subs not used: Pidgeley, Barron.
Booked: Craig - unsporting behaviour (84)
Goals- 2: Alexander *2 - (37, 39)
Scunthorpe: Murphy, Byrne, Mirfin, Morris, Crosby, Sparrow, Togwell (Trotter 55), McCann, Woolford, Hayes, Hooper (Forte 80)
Subs not used: Lillis, Wright, Thompson.
Booked: Togwell - unsporting behaviour (10)
Sparrow - unsporting behaviour (16)
Goals- 3: Sparrow *2 - (6, 70)
Woolford - (85)
|K / O:
||Coca-Cola League 1 Play-Off Final|
||59,661 (Millwall 44,159, Scunthorpe 9,300* & Neutral 6,200*) *approximate figure only|
||Michael Oliver (Northumberland)|
||Rob Lewis (Shropshire)|
||Mark Sutton (Derbyshire)|
||Graham Laws (Tyne & Weir)|
|PowerAde Man of the Match:
||Martyn Woolford (Scunthorpe)|
BY JAMES MOODY
© James Moody 2009. Not to be used without permission.
The Football League's Junior Reporter Competition was run as part of the Fans of the Future Campaign.For more information please click here.