BY ALEX GRACE AT OAKWELL
Two games in and only one point gained, not the return that Gary Rowett or Millwall would have wanted from the start of the ‘mini season.’
Saturday’s draw at Oakwell was one of huge frustration for Millwall. The amount of times they managed to get into Barnsley’s attacking third but were lacking that final pass or lack of shot was alarming.
As expected, Lions boss Rowett changed formation back to a 5-2-3, which has been his favoured shape – in particular away from home – since his appointment in October.
Shaun Hutchinson was passed fit to start alongside Jake Cooper, who made his 115th consecutive appearance. Alex Pearce was only fit enough for a place on the bench, meaning Murray Wallace moved into the centre with Shane Ferguson starting as left wing-back. Tom Bradshaw replaced Matt Smith up front – pace and getting in behind the Barnsley defence favoured to the more direct approach that Smith offers.
Mason Bennett also made his return and first start since the restart after being ineligible to face his parent club Derby County last week. Shaun Williams came in for Ryan Leonard to partner Jayson Molumby in central midfield.
Bradshaw, making his first start since the break, played an important role up front as he won a number of headers up against a Tykes defence that have conceded 62 goals this season, the fourth worst defensive record in the Championship.
As against Derby, Millwall started a little bit slowly but once they got into the game, they firmly took it by the scruff of the neck and managed it – their best chance came in the first half as Shane Ferguson’s free-kick cannoned off the underside of the crossbar.
It was a game that struggled for any real consistency. Ferguson was the main source of creativity for the visitors in the first half. He put in a cross which Murray Wallace headed wide. Bennett was then provided a chance by Jed Wallace, but he was unable to convert.
Barnsley were forced to take long -range efforts as Millwall’s well-organised defence stood strong and were rarely troubled by the host’s attacking threat.
Half-time arrived with Millwall firmly on top but having failed to trouble Barnsley stopper Jack Walton.
The Tykes changed things at half time by introducing Conor Chaplin, who scored in the reverse fixture at The Den in December.
He made an immediate impact seeing a shot blocked as the Tykes came out in the second half with a bit more of an attacking intent. The Yorkshire side needing the points just as much as Millwall but for different reasons.
Bart Bialkowski was forced into a smart stop five minutes into the second half as Barnsley skipper Alex Mowatt had a go from distance.
The Polish goalkeeper was called into action again in the 63rd minute to deny Michael Sollbauer, who really should have done better with a header on a rare occasion that Barnsley managed to forge a chance inside the Millwall 18-yard box.
Both sides pushed towards the end with Murray Wallace’s curling effort going just past the far post, while Chaplin was denied by a great tackle from Jake Cooper down the other end.
It’s more frustration for the Lions, who will feel the enforced break could not have come at a worse time for them. They have failed to replicate the momentum and the form which had put them firmly in the race for the top-six places in the Championship before the shutdown.
It was a much-improved performance from the one against Derby. The Lions looked a lot more threatening but are still lacking that end product which has been a problem for the majority of the season. That will surely be an area that Rowett will look at improving in the summer transfer window.
Jed Wallace tried to set Mason Bennett away but a last-ditch touch from a Barnsley defender prevented the passage through to deny what would have been a certain goal. It summed up Millwall’s afternoon.
The positives to take away from the game is another away clean sheet, a fourth shutout in five away games. It is something Rowett has improved since his arrival. Millwall have the joint fifth-best defence in the league with only Nottingham Forest, West Brom, Brentford and Leeds conceded fewer than Millwall’s 43.
The other positive was the return of Ben Thompson. The midfielder came on as a late substitute, making his first appearance since the 1-0 win at Derby in December.
Millwall will know the importance of the coming week. Two games that will shape their season. Swansea will arrive in South London tomorrow evening needing to win just as much as Millwall after their defeat to Luton Town on Saturday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Friday sees a short trip across South London to face Charlton Athletic who themselves despite winning both of their games since the restart are just three points above the relegation places.
Anything but a win on Tuesday evening against the Swans could be terminal for Millwall’s hopes of a top-six finish. Cardiff City, managed by former Lions boss Neil Harris, moved into the top six on Saturday after beating Preston and are five points ahead of Millwall with seven games left to play. You feel that the loser on Tuesday will start preparing for another season of Championship football.
Millwall (5-2-3): Bialkowski 6, Romeo 6, Hutchinson 7, Cooper 7, M Wallace 6, Ferguson 7 (Skalak 90), Williams 6, Molumby 7 (Woods 81), J Wallace 6 (Thompson 90), Bradshaw 6 (Smith 69, 5), Bennett 7 (Mahoney 81). Not used: Steele, Pearce, Leonard, Mitchell.
PHOTOS BY BRIAN TONKS
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