BY DANIEL MARSH AT THE DEN
It’s not often that Millwall produce a nine-point week. They haven’t had one since January 2019, when they began their storming run under Neil Harris which fell just short of the Championship play-offs.
This week, they had a chance to do just that with the visit of Barnsley after toppling Wycombe last Saturday before going on to produce their most complete performance of the season to see off Luton Town on Tuesday night.
Unfortunately, Millwall were just as ineffective in the opening 45 minutes against the Tykes as they were impressive against Luton in midweek.
The main talking point – both before and after the 1-1 draw – was the decision to change formation from the 4-2-3-1 setting which the Lions excelled in on Tuesday night. Matt Smith had been involved in three of the four Millwall goals previously in the week and was probably the most glaring omission.
Perhaps though it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see the Lions switch back to a five-man defence – Gary Rowett namedropped Barnsley’s 5-2-1-2 set-up ahead of the game which probably alluded to his intentions to somewhat match their shape.
Even though it’s a formation which has been deployed more often than any other under Rowett, Millwall struggled and seemed to have lost their rhythm from previous outings, producing a disappointing first-half display.
It was no real surprise when Alex Mowatt thundered the visitors into the lead on the stroke of the break. The Tykes were sloppy just like their hosts, but they had at least looked the more likely to score.
It wasn’t a lead which would last. It was something of a miracle that such a quiet half of football would suddenly end with two quick-fire goals. Jake Cooper towered above everyone at the back post to head Connor Mahoney’s inswinging corner down beyond Jack Walton deep into injury time.
Despite another slow start and briefly falling behind – you do get the impression that Millwall would have probably fared just fine without the extra defensive presence. Other than the visitors goal, the Lions backline wasn’t really overworked throughout. That additional body at the other end of the pitch could have made all the difference in a contrasting second half.
Mason Bennett was deployed in a central role with the intention of pressing an imposing Barnsley backline. Bennett shone down the middle alongside Smith against Luton, with Rowett revealing earlier this week that he saw Bennett’s future at Millwall in a more central position.
Bennett is full of pace and power, with the right technical blend to make a successful number nine – even if he wasn’t as prominent on Saturday as he was against Luton. It’s tough to judge things on one game – especially when the majority of the Lions’ play was slow and deep inside their own half that the entire front three were effectively bypassed from proceedings during the opening period.
Mahoney’s corner produced the Millwall goal, but he didn’t really see enough of the game to build on his starring role in Luton’s demise. He’ll be keen to put in a good display at Preston on Wednesday to ensure he doesn’t lose that momentum. Jed Wallace on the opposite flank was pretty much absent until the game’s final knockings, but in fairness, he can’t be expected to produce magic every week.
It was a bit of a surprise to not see a change of shape at the break. There was no question that whatever the plan was, it hadn’t really worked. But, to their credit, it was a vastly improved Millwall performance in the second period – even if they couldn’t find that elusive winner.
The main positive for Millwall is that once again – and even with their starting forward trio anonymous for the first-half – they could have had more goals with a touch more fortune. Both Scott Malone and Bennett were denied by the woodwork in the second-half, with Kenneth Zohore thwarted excellently by Walton twice late on after coming off the bench. Malone was probably the Lions’ most prominent attacking threat throughout, showing why Rowett was so keen to add a more attack-minded option for the left wing-back role.
It’s been a long time since I can remember a Millwall side coming close to scoring on four or five occasions when not at their fluent best. It really does feel like the Lions are due to give someone a hiding soon.
For a week with three winnable fixtures, seven points out of nine is a healthy return – especially when you take into consideration that winning games against those sides less glamorous has never really been a strength for the Lions.
Even if this was a missed opportunity – and it did feel like it was – this still had the feel of a game which Millwall would have lost just over a year ago. The Lions have still made an uncharacteristically strong start to the season. With a seemingly never-ending stretch of three-game weeks on the horizon, producing seven-point weeks on a consistent basis would ensure they are firmly in the mix to better last season’s eight placed finish.
Scott Malone. Produced the kind of attacking display he was signed for. Good defensive moments too and unlucky to be denied by the crossbar late on.
Jake Cooper’s towering header down and beyond Jack Walton was the perfect follow-up to Millwall’s opener at Luton as the Lions look to rediscover their prowess from set-pieces.
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.