BY DANIEL MARSH
Gary Rowett slammed the match officials after Millwall were denied three strong penalty appeals in the 2-1 defeat at Blackburn Rovers.
The Lions fell behind to Harvey Elliott’s strike before Scott Malone drew them level in the first half. Adam Armstrong struck in the 90th minute after Ryan Woods gave possession away cheaply.
Millwall threw everything at the hosts in a late onslaught to try and grab a share of the spoils, but were left incensed when a late penalty appeal was overlooked by the officials.
Speaking after the game, a frustrated Rowett pulled no punches in his assessment of the late spot-kick shout and the Lions manager also shared his half-time exchange with the referee following an earlier penalty appeal in the first half.
He said: “We have three blatant penalty shouts. I won’t be greedy – I’ll say get one right. There’s three handballs – Lenighan moves his arm to block the shot from Jed, then Ayala has both his hands in the air above Jon’s head when he heads it and it hits his arms. For me that’s the easiest one. There’s loads of space in the box, there’s not even bodies around it. And for the third one, Ayala punches it out right at the end, and that’s why our players are absolutely furious.
“I spoke to the referee at half-time and said: ‘You’ve got it wrong, I’ve seen it’. His reaction to me was ‘I don’t think you have seen it’. As you can imagine, I was rather disappointed with that response. The disappointing bit is we’ve travelled five hours to get up here, we’ve given everything in the game, we’ve gone a goal down against a very talented Blackburn side. Armstrong’s scored more goals than our whole team on his own and you can see why because he’s incredibly talented. He’s probably the difference for them at the moment. We kept them very, very quiet. Apart from a few counter attacks, we were really good. We responded well, scored a goal from Scotty and then on the whole, as the away team coming to a place like this, I thought we were really comfortable.
“The goal we concede is incredibly stupid. It’s not just Woodsy. I think Woodsy loses it in a really, really poor area when they’re trying to over press us with extra players. But, we make two or three silly passes before then. For me, in the 91st minute or whatever it was, you just have to do the right thing in an away game.
“If you can’t win it off the back of three decisions that the referee and the officials [have made]. I say the officials as well because there’s a linesman that’s 30 yards away. What amazes me, is that they see every little foul and every little bit. But, when there’s major decisions, in my opinion, because there are no fans here, it’s really, really easy not to give and that’s my frustration.
“The problem is at the moment, what happens is the referee goes into his little room and you can’t go and see him. You can’t say anything about it. My argument, as a manager is – in my opinion, we’ve been denied a chance of winning the game by three poor decisions. Key decisions and I can’t do anything about it as a manager. I just have to accept it and just walk along and go ‘oh it’s unlucky’. I think it means more than that to people. It means more than that to fans and it means more than that to staff. I would say that’s my disappointment. If that’s VAR tonight, I think we get three penalties. Because it isn’t and it’s the Championship, it isn’t. I don’t really want VAR, but it feels unjust tonight and I think that’s my disappointment.”
Despite the late disappointment at Ewood Park, Rowett was pleased with his side’s performance overall.
The Lions manager added: “We were excellent.We moved the ball really well and our formation and the way we played it caused them a lot of problems. They’re always a dangerous side on the transition. It became a game of transitions where we felt we could really, really hurt them, and then every now and then when we attacked and lost the ball in advanced areas, they’ve got the pace. You could see it in the first half. They tried to play three forwards – Armstrong would drop deep and the two wide ones, Brereton and Gallagher tried to stretch us out. But I thought we dealt with that really, really well.
“It’s really hard for me to come off and say the performance was poor.
“It’s hard for me to come off and say we deserved to lose the game, because I didn’t think we did. Yes, we’ve made a silly mistake and that’s probably the only bit I can be really disappointed with the players [about]. Unfortunately, that’s probably one of the key moments in the game that denies us the chance to at least take a point out of the game and be disappointed. But when you’re sat here with three decisions like that, it’s really hard not to be a little frustrated and slightly bewildered really by the lack of definitive decision making. And if I’m being honest, I think to a certain degree, with no fans the standard of officiating has been really, really poor.”
Millwall will have 2,000 fans at Saturday’s home game against Derby County.
Rowett is pleased at the return as government restrictions were eased today, but admitted it was not easy to focus on that with the disappointment in Lancashire so fresh in his thoughts.
“Absolutely. It’s hard for me to just flick a switch and suddenly be really excited about it. I am of course excited about it, it’ll be great to get the fans back. I think tonight is just a disappointment of the game and having to now travel all the way back down on a Wednesday night when of course Derby played on Tuesday. But it is what it is. We’ve got to dig in – I’ve just said to the players in there, if we play like that then I think we’ll have a good chance of winning the game.
“But what we’ve got to do is start turning some of these performances into winning performances. Not being unfortunate because we’ve not taken our chances, or unfortunate because we’ve made a silly mistake right at the end. We can’t afford to do that. We’ve said that too many times this season in my opinion, and I think we’re nearly a very good side. But I don’t like the word nearly, because it means we’re not quite doing everything we need to do to win games. “
PHOTOS: SEAN GOSLING
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