BY RICHARD CAWLEY AT THE DEN
The only thing missing from Millwall’s performance on Wednesday night was a goal. Unfortunately, that’s quite a big deal. Especially when you’re looking to make up ground on the Championship play-off places and wins are required.
The match statistics told the story that the Lions clearly had the edge. They had 14 corners and 12 shots with Birmingham not even mustering an effort on target.
But Millwall could not make their set-piece moments count. It’s rare that they don’t – they have scored 16 times via that route with only Cardiff City (18) boasting more.
But Sky Sports had their own damning stat after the match – that the Lions had only netted 19 times from open play, the fewest in the division. For touches in the opposition box they are 22nd and a place higher when it comes to chances created this season – 283.
It’s worth making the point that Millwall have shown plenty of nice approach play in recent weeks but the execution in the final third has not been there often enough.
They have failed to score in four of their last six league matches.
Millwall have had seven blanks in the current campaign, losing four of those. And they have only managed one goal in 17 of their Championship fixtures.
To sum things up, the Lions look a solid outfit defensively – definitely tightening up at the back since Gary Rowett took charge – but are lacking firepower at the other end of the pitch.
None of this is breaking news to the Lions manager.
Rowett has regularly praised the work ethic and aptitude of his players but also conceded at times that they have been found wanting in terms of converting opportunities when in the ascendency.
There is nothing negative about Millwall’s playing style.
Birmingham – one of those rare Championship clubs not to have anything to really play for – seemed perfectly content with a point in SE16. A case in point was Jude Bellingham’s painfully slow exit from the field of play when he was substituted in the 72nd minute.
Rowett tried about every attacking option he had open to him. He brought on Tom Bradshaw for Mason Bennett, whose home debut had started brightly but seen him badly fade in terms of involvement by the halfway point. Matt Smith replaced centre-back Alex Pearce with Jon Dadi Bodvarsson switched off for Connor Mahoney.
But whereas similar substitutions had come up trumps for Rowett at The Den earlier on in his tenure, it couldn’t help coax a winner for the South Londoners.
Lee Camp made three very good saves from Jed Wallace, Jayson Molumby and Bodvarsson – but there were also numerous other moments where things didn’t quite click.
Jed Wallace and Mahlon Romeo linked up effectively in the second period as Millwall controlled possession and enjoye territorial advantage. The full-back whipped in a delicious cross which Bradshaw – sliding in – narrowly failed to get a connection on.
Wallace produced a similar delivery which Bodvarsson should have attacked with greater gusto.
While you can focus on some of the inadequacies from an attacking perspective, that shouldn’t detract from the progress being made.
Rowett has majorly toned down the directness shown under predecessor Neil Harris. Although the Lions are still 23rd in a table for possession they completed 101 more passes than Birmingham.
And there are plenty of other Championship clubs who would love to have their defensive solidity.
Only the top five can boast a better record in terms of goals conceded.
Bartosz Bialkowski has largely been excellent when tested this season but he had next to nothing to do in midweek on his way to collecting an 11th clean sheet.
Millwall’s play-off prospects are in doubt, but by no means dead.
The biggest impediment to hitting that top-six by the end of April is making the goals flow a little more readily.
Rowett might well have to wait until the summer transfer window to fine tune things in that department.
Millwall (5-2-3): Bialkowski 6, Romeo 8, Hutchinson 7, Cooper 7, Pearce 8 (Smith 63, 6), M Wallace 7, Molumby 7, Woods 7, J Wallace 8, Bennett 6 (Bradshaw 63, 6), Bodvarsson 5 (Mahoney 80). Not used: Steele, Ferguson, Mitchell, O’Brien
Pics by Brian Tonks
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