BY ALEX GRACE
Another point and another clean sheet on the road.
Normally, as a manager, player and a supporter you would be happy with that – but it’s the lack of goals that is causing concern for Gary Rowett and Millwall supporters at the moment.
Saturday’s stalemate at Sheffield Wednesday was the third game in a row in which the Lions have failed to score. In those three games they have managed just four shots on target – all of which came in the 3-0 reverse to Huddersfield on Halloween.
The draw at Norwich was a very good defensive effort but Saturday’s stalemate at Hillsborough was one in truth the Lions should have lost. An opinion that was echoed by manager Rowett, who was thankful to his goalkeeper Bart Bialkowski and to the hosts’ lack of cutting edge at the top end of the pitch.
Bialkowski has made two errors so far this season that have cost his side goals. The fancy footwork gone wrong at Wycombe and the failure to stop Kike’s effort against Huddersfield – but apart from that he has continued to prove his worth.
At Norwich last Wednesday he made seven stops to deny them taking all three points – and he performed similar heroics in South Yorkshire.
He was forced into his first save of the day on 34 minutes, Josh Windass hitting a powerful effort that the keeper parried away for a corner. That was the only save he had to make in the opening 45 minutes.
Windass again tested Bialkowski at the start of the second half but he was equal to the former Wigan Athletic striker’s effort.
Perhaps the best save of the lot was the one at the end of the game. Deep into stoppage time, Bialkowski kept out substitute Jack Marriott’s effort. What made it even better was the way he was able to hold it and not parry it back out into the danger area.
Rowett will take away some positives, one being his team have gone away to two sides and two grounds where they don’t usually fare too well and taken a point and a clean sheet from each of them.
In previous times they would have been games that the Lions would have lost. For all the saves Bialkowski made Rowett’s side could have taken all three points back to SE16. The chances they did create, on another day would have found the net. Shaun Hutchinson had a great chance from a Connor Mahoney corner, timing his run to perfection. However his end product just like at Norwich on Tuesday night, was his downfall. His header from inside the six-yard box would have been perfect for a conversion in the six nations.
Matt Smith, who is normally so reliable when it comes to headed situations, will also have been disappointed with his late effort that could have sealed another away day victory.
Mahoney delivered a superb ball right on to Smith’s head but the big striker failed to deliver as his header somehow dropped wide of the far post.
Some would argue that Millwall’s last two defensive performances were the perfect response to the disaster against Huddersfield, which would be right and correct.
However, what critics would say is that this is already a very good side defensively, this was the 11th clean sheet on the road in 2020 which is an astounding record and one that should rightly be praised. But keeping goals out is only 50 per cent of the formula needed to be a successful side pushing for a top six place in the Championship – the remainder is putting the ball in the net. This was the 11th time in 32 league games in 2020 that Millwall have not found the net and that record – for a side wanting to be in the mix for the top six – is simply not good enough.
Goalscoring is proving to be a real problem for Millwall. Not having someone to get on the end of the chances created was the main reason Millwall missed out on the top six last season – hence the arrivals of Troy Parrott and Ken Zohore. We are yet to see Parrott in league action, through no fault of his own, and we have already seen what Zohore can do, making his long-term calf Injury even more frustrating.
Rowett was in agreement with me when I suggested to him the international break arrives at the perfect time for his side. Injuries to key strikers have hampered the Lions and the evidence of that has come through in the last few games.
The chance to recharge the batteries of some players and get others back fit is welcome. The fixture schedule upon return from the break is just as heavy with 11 games in 39 days up to the end of 2020. Cardiff City and former Lions manager Neil Harris is up first.
STAR MAN: Bart Bialkowski. The Lions stopper made seven saves in the game including two very good stops from Josh Windass and one from Jack Marriott in stoppage time.
BEST MOMENT: Millwall didn’t create too many chances in the attacking third of the pitch but the best one fell to Smith. Had it been on target then the result could have been so much different.
Please support your local paper by making a donation
Please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing recently: “A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
So if you have enjoyed reading this story, and if you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can buy our newspaper or make a donation, which will allow us to continue to bring stories like this one to you both in print and online.