Millwall win away on opening day for first time since 2015 – but they need defensive error to leave Rotherham with maximum points

BY ALEX GRACE
You have to go back to August 8, 2015 for the last time that Millwall won their first away game of a league season.

Back then the Lions came from behind and beat Shrewsbury 2-1 thanks to a Steve Morison goal and a Lee Gregory penalty.

Although Gary Rowett didn’t think the statistics about Millwall’s poor start away from home in recent years has a massive effect, the club’s fans will feel relief that they won’t be waiting until the cold depths of November for that crucial away win to kickstart their season.

When the Lions won away for the first time in the 2017-18 season – 4-3 at Leeds – it set up a superb 17-game unbeaten run which saw them just miss out on the Championship top six.

Clinical, is how you would describe Millwall’s 1-0 victory at The New York Stadium on Saturday.

One clearcut chance and one goal. That is something that Millwall will have to keep up if they are to challenge at the top end of the Championship table this season. There was too many times last season where Millwall got into attacking positions but failed to convert their chances.

Gary Rowett made three changes to the side that drew 0-0 with Stoke on the opening day as Mahlon Romeo, Ryan Woods and Tom Bradshaw all made their first league starts of the season.

It was a frustrating first half for Rowett’s charges as Rotherham dominated. Ten minutes in and Freddie Ladapo broke free of both Ryan Woods and Ryan Leonard in central midfield, he fed Joe Mattock whose cross was aimed for Michael Smith at the back post but Bartosz Bialkowski claimed.

Six minutes later and Alex Pearce had to be alert to clear a dangerous-looking corner off the goal line as Rotherham continued to dominate the early stages.

The Millers should have gone in front on 20 minutes. Cheidozie Ogbene, who caused problems for Millwall throughout the first half, beat Scott Malone and pulled back for Ladapo but he opened up his body too much and saw his scuffed effort go wide of the far post.

Millwall forced two chances before the break. Scott Malone curled a free-kick over the bar before Jed Wallace saw a shot deflected over the bar.

Rowett said he urged his side to play with a bit more brightness in the second half and they did exactly that. More aggression and more on the front foot. It worked. Although the goal was not a moment of magic for Millwall, it was clinical.

Michael Ihiekwe was caught under the bounce of the ball that fell kindly to Jed Wallace, he rounded the onrushing Jamal Blackman and finished into an empty net.

Rotherham did come back and Bart Bialkowski was forced into two smart saves. Firstly, Jamie Lindsay’s header was held well by the Pole before Joe Mattock tired his luck on the volley from outside the area that he didn’t see until late which made the stop that much better.

The Millwall keeper kept 16 clean sheets last season, you feel that once again will be integral to Millwall’s success.

Another man who will be vital if Millwall are to recapture their form of last season will be Jed Wallace, the only player to get into double figures for goals and assists in the Championship last season.

His winner on Saturday was his first goal since January 28 – 20 games ago. You could see how much that goal meant to him and the rest of his team-mates with the celebration as they all bundled on top of each other showing the togetherness and unity in the squad. That unity and togetherness could take the Lions on to big and better things this season.

Star Man – Alex Pearce. The Millwall skipper led by example and marshalled his troops brilliantly for the full 90 minutes. The Lions were under the cosh in the opening 45 minutes and he kept the players around him calm as they weathered the early storm.

Moment of the match – The sheer relief on the faces of the Millwall players when Jake Cooper’s thumping header cleared away the last Rotherham corner before the full time whistle blew. Alex Pearce perhaps summed it up best by jumping on the  back of his central defensive partner.


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