Bilic wants to make amends for that ‘unacceptable’ night at Millwall

In the good old days of season highlights on VHS or DVD, a trip to Millwall in October would defy even the best editor to find anything to include.

Watford lost 3-0 and the game ended at half-time because the hosts’ closeness was something the Hornets could not handle that night.

Indeed, some traveling fans returned to the station before the first half whistle blew, such was the nature of the performance.

That night was not wasted on coach Slaven Bilic. He has endured performing and sharing the pain and misery. Since that dismal experience in south London, his side have picked up 17 points from 24 and go into Boxing Day after four consecutive clean sheets.

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However, Bellitch still feels hurt by The Den, and wants to right what went wrong.

“We can’t forget Millwall away. That was a game that hurt us. I admit every defeat hurts but this one was especially painful.

“We just didn’t cope that night. It’s no excuse, but at that time we had injury problems in a back four. But like I said, you can’t hide from the fact that we conceded three very similar goals from long balls.

“It was a very painful game but we are in a different situation now. We have options in defence, and as a team we have improved a lot since then.

“We know we have to do better with set-pieces, but it’s not like you can tell players not to give up on free-kicks, corners and throw-ins: what you have to do is be ready.

“The game hasn’t been at Millwall for a long time, so that night gives us extra motivation.”

Watford’s head coach said his side were well prepared for that trip to Millwall, but described what they put in as “unacceptable”.

“The team and I go into every game expecting to pick up three points. It doesn’t mean disrespecting our opponents, it’s just the right mentality.

“But that game that night, where they quickly lost 3-0, the crowd and everything. I don’t like words like embarrassment or humiliation, but it was unacceptable — that’s the best word.

“The way they faced us from the first moment, I remember well. I watched the whole Millwall game again this week and from the first kick we didn’t deal with long balls.

“The game ended for us before half-time, and although we tried in the second half, they were happy to just sit and watch the game.”

Much direct approach is made to Millwall, hitting the ball towards the opposition square at every opportunity.

But Bilic pointed out that his players fell into the trap of focusing too much time and effort on trying to win the first ball, and not paying enough attention to where it landed.

“You don’t have to win the first header every time, especially if it’s outside the penalty area,” he said.

“You need to stop the player from hitting the ball down, but if he wants to shoot it then this header won’t hurt you.

“What hurts is if you don’t mark the other players inside the box who score the second ball. We didn’t do that at Millwall: we didn’t focus or focus well enough.

“I think we were too concerned about trying to win the first head, and wasting players trying to do it. That left players free behind.

“To be fair, it can be difficult to stop a very big player from winning the first ball. So what you need to do is make sure you take care of the ball when it lands.

“Millwall are only talked about as straightforward, but they can play – especially when they score early like they did against us and their confidence goes up, while their confidence goes down.”

Bilic said Millwall are clearly playing to his strengths at home and while he expects a similar style of football on Monday, he is not worried at all.

“At home, Millwall will do to many teams what they did to us. Results-wise, they are one of the better teams at home.

“I don’t care how other teams react to the challenge posed by Millwall at home, but we just weren’t strong enough. I don’t mean we lost a couple of guys over 6ft. I mean we seemed to be thinking ‘this isn’t football’.”

“We have to expect the same thing on Monday. They will play long balls. You can’t stop the long ball. You can stop teams from pressing the ball, but you can’t stop them hitting long balls. What you have to do is handle it better.

“I’m not worried or worried about it though. I see in our squad players who know what we need to do, and then they know we have the tools to do it. We have a way of doing it.”

Will the threat from the air prompt Bilic to consider changing his defensive formation?

“Our central defenders are 6ft 4in or taller. Obviously a 6ft 4in player would have a better chance of winning the ball in the air against someone that size, but it’s not that we have small defenders.

“All our defenders can handle in the air. Like I said, you don’t have to win every first ball, but you do have to make sure you know what those running off the ball are doing.”


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