No need to hit the panic button yet
Chris LakeyMillwall 2, Norwich City 1: "Norwich, Leeds, Charlton fans - is your team bottling it?" shouted Steve Claridge across the airwaves on Saturday evening. Off went the radio, but no one would have been surprised had Paul Lambert himself not wanted to lead the charge of phone calls to Radio Five Live to ask why the first league defeat since October 19 might be considered a bottle job.Chris Lakey
"Norwich, Leeds, Charlton fans - is your team bottling it?" shouted Steve Claridge across the airwaves on Saturday evening.
Off went the radio, but no one would have been surprised had Paul Lambert himself not wanted to lead the charge of phone calls to Radio Five Live to ask why the first league defeat since October 19 might be considered a bottle job.
Leeds? Maybe, given their recent league record is one win in five.
Charlton? They may well have a case to answer after one in the same period.
Norwich? Don't be mad.
Sometimes you have to put your hands up and say you were beaten by a better team and on Saturday Norwich City simply were not as good as Millwall.
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That said, City are now the sixth member of the current top 10 to have been mauled in the Lions' den. Nothing to be ashamed of, nothing there to suggest the wheels had suddenly fallen off and City would plummet down the League One table.
What you have is a run of 16 games, 14 of them wins, which is now 17 games, 14 of them wins.
And Norwich City are still top of League One.
A year ago, perhaps almost every second Monday in February for the past six years, things might have been a little different.
Perhaps defeat at Millwall might have been met by the Monday morning blues that said, 'oh no, not again - another rotten run-in at the end of a rotten season'.
But not this morning. City are two points clear of Leeds - thanks to a late equaliser at Hartlepool on Saturday which softened the blow of defeat and confirmed the feeling you'd rather have the points on the board than the games in hand the Yorkshiremen have. And Charlton got only a point from Swindon in time added on, which still leaves the Addicks wondering if they're ever going to catch the two leading runners in the race for automatic promotion.
There will be no belly-button gazing at Norwich. Paul Lambert and his players will go into Colney this morning knowing their world hasn't fallen apart in the space of one weekend trip to south-east London, to a ground where Leeds, Colchester and MK Dons have been beaten this year and where Charlton have yet to go.
And the bonus is leading scorer Grant Holt will be back for next weekend's trip to Brighton, who haven't won at home in the league in their last seven attempts.
Holt was missed more on Saturday than in the previous two games of his suspension, although the quality of the opposition has much to do with that. Millwall are no pushovers at The New Den, where the toxic atmosphere has to be worth a few points a season.
It's full-in-your-face, non-stop aggression from the terraces, which the team translates into pretty relentless work rate that left City with little time to move. Chris Martin was the outstanding player for City, his fourth-minute free-kick giving early hope and reflecting just what a good player he has become; his close control is excellent, his upper body strength impressive, his finishing top drawer - which is perhaps why he is paid so much attention by defenders.
The early goal should have brought more rewards, but Millwall didn't take long in getting back into the game - a game which, incidentally, began shortly after a wedding proposal on pitch from one Mark Garlick to Amanda Flower, heartily cheered by a season-high 14,374 crowd - and soon followed by a chant of "You don't know what you're doing." It was the politest chant of the day. Millwall swarmed around City, and by 25 minutes were level.
Left-back Tony Craig rifled home from the edge of the area, his shot getting a nick off Michael Nelson before going past Fraser Forster. No argument there, and it became increasingly clear it was going to be an uncomfortable afternoon.
Chris Hackett was providing the danger from dead balls that Simon Lappin wasn't, while Jimmy Abdou was nullifying the threat of Wes Hoolahan.
Everywhere Hoolahan went, Abdou followed. As the City coach left the ground after the game, you half expected Abdou to be sitting there next to the little Irishman.
It was highly effective - that and the determination of Millwall's midfielders not to give their City counterparts a moment's peace.
It left Martin and Cody McDonald looking for scraps and City looking less than dangerous around the area.
Martin's free-kick aside, their biggest first-half threat came from Russell Martin, the right-back took possession some 10 yards inside his own half and ended up on the edge of the Millwall area before seeing his shot palmed away by David Forde. Had he scored it would have been goal of the season, it was that good.
Six minutes into the second half and City switched off when a quick corner was knocked out to Hackett. As the defenders were looking for their men, Hackett found half-time sub Neil Harris, who glanced it home and sent the home crowd into raptures, the decibel-meter matched only by the later introduction of City sub and former Lions defender Zak Whitbread. It wasn't a warm welcome back.
Hackett went close from distance late on and Millwall wasted some good opportunities on the break, but City's forward motion rarely ended in anything constructive in front of goal.
Darel Russell's shot from the edge of the box 10 minutes from time was their only real effort of the half on target.
Chris Martin had curled one wide by then and with Gary Doherty joining him up front, Oli Johnson replacing McDonald and winger Anthony McNamee on, City had plenty of attacking thrust. But the kitchen sink throwing in the closing stages resulted only in a few skipped heartbeats and a Nelson overhead kick that went just wide after taking a deflection.
Millwall held out, and they deserved to.
It's not often we've had to wonder how City will react to defeat, but the last one prompted a long unbeaten run and there is no reason to suggest this one won't be the start of another.
Will Lambert make changes for next weekend?
Holt will come back in, that's for sure, but the manager may have to consider whether it's time to rest some of the weary legs that have served him so well, especially with the quality of Stephen Hughes and, as he showed on Saturday, Whitbread on the bench.
McNamee had a rare run-out late on and put in two or three crosses of real quality.
All three are options, not because anyone's playing poorly, but because City have looked just a bit leggy at times in recent games. Walsall and Hartlepool pushed them further than they had any right to, but it was only Millwall who could beat them.
It's hard to criticise any of them and it's a clich�, but you don't become a bad team overnight. And Norwich are not a bad team by a million miles, as they will prove very soon. The run is dead - long live the run.