BY JAKE SANDERS AT EWOOD PARK
He has occasionally been the villain, but Jordan Archer was most certainly the hero at Ewood Park on Saturday as he produced a fine display of goalkeeping to earn Millwall a point and their first clean sheet of the campaign.
Archer recorded 18 shutouts last season – the fifth most in the Championship – if he continues to perform like this, he will surely give himself every chance of beating that number.
The Lions shotstopper was in relentless form and predictably, his manager sung his praises during his post-match press conference. “He was excellent and my man-of-the-match”, said Harris.
The old saying ‘it was a game of two halves’, was never more appropriate. Archer’s performance didn’t look likely early on, though. The away side started like a team possessed and the finishing touch was all that was escaped their dominant first-half showing.
Jed Wallace, clearly not affected by the reported bids from Middlesbrough on deadline day, almost gave Millwall the perfect start with a swerving volley that grazed the side-netting after clever play from Steve Morison.
Among the odd counter-attack from Tony Mowbray’s side, the Lions spent most of the opening period camped outside Blackburn’s penalty area, and it looked almost inevitable they would head into the break with some sort of advantage.
George Saville and Morison hit the post from distance, with David Raya a mere spectator on both occasions. It started to feel like one of those days. Blackburn were on the ropes, but luck was on their side and the scoreline remained goalless.
It took the hosts until first-half stoppage-time to put an end to the flood of Lions attacks and Bradley Dack’s 45th free-kick proved to be a turning point.
That late effort changed the momentum of the contest and Rovers performance slowly improved as they grew in confidence. Archer tipped that effort from Dack behind for a corner and on first viewing, it looked like a routine save, but the awkward bounce just before it reached the Scot made it even more impressive. It kicked off a busy afternoon for the Millwall goalkeeper.
Harris shrugged his shoulders on the touchline. His side had lost their way and whatever he said at the break, hadn’t worked. His side could not get hold of the ball and when they did, possession was surrendered far too easily.
Blackburn’s best chances fell the way of Danny Graham. He had two identical opportunities, but was unable to get past a determined Archer, who was single-handedly keeping the home side at bay. His second save earned him Peter Schmeichel comparisons from Rovers boss
Mowbray – as he quickly sprung off his line and spread himself to block Graham’s effort in a way that the ex-Manchester United goalkeeper was renowned for.
It was becoming a one-man show. Archer was forced to use all his skill and athleticism as he threw himself to his right before producing a big right-hand to deny Joe Rothwell from breaking the deadlock.
By this stage, the Lions had probably accepted that a point would be the maximum they would be leaving with the East Lancashire with.
Jiri Skalak was introduced in an optimistic attempt for a smash-and-grab. But, just like Aiden O’Brien, he was a frustrated figure for the majority of his 15-minute cameo and saw very little of the ball.
The Czech Republic international is likely to get another chance to impress when Millwall take on Gillingham in the EFL Cup first round tonight.
Skalak is expected to play from the start for the first time since joining from Brighton, in one of several changes from the Ewood Park stalemate.
Fred Onyedinma, who was left out of the squad for the trip to East Lancashire, is also likely to start. Harris revealed that his omission for Shane Ferguson was nothing more than squad rotation and the 22-year-old was not carrying an injury.
Millwall: Archer 10, Romeo 7, Hutchinson 6, Cooper 6, Meredith 6, J Wallace 7 (Ferguson), Saville 7, Williams 6, O’Brien 5 (Skalak), Morison 6, Gregory 5. Not used: Amos, McLaughlin, Tunnicliffe, Elliott, M Wallace.
PICTURES BY BRIAN TONKS
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