Richard Cawley’s big-match verdict on Millwall 0 Watford 0 – Lions top of one Championship chart and strong favourites to stay there


There is one Championship table that Millwall are top of – with every chance they will strengthen their grip at the summit.

We’re talking about draws. Tuesday’s 0-0 with Watford was the Lions’ 12th out of 25 matches in the current season.

Gary Rowett’s side only need two more to match their total for the whole of the 2018-19 campaign. The most they have kept since promotion back to the Championship is 17, which was achieved last time around.

They look very likely to add to that tally for a number of reasons.

Until Millwall feel they are safe from the threat of relegation then it is hard to see the defensive shackles coming off again.

Rowett has talked recently about a return to the basics that have allowed the Lions to compete, and sometimes exceed expectation, in English football’s second tier, rather than persisting with a transition into a more expansive footballing outfit.

And with too many of Millwall’s attacking players either out of form or finding the level a tough ask, keeping it tight at the back has never been more important.

If you don’t concede then you at least draw. The Lions have kept successive clean sheets for the first time since early November and it has been enough to chisel out a 1-0 win at a soggy Huddersfield and follow up with a 0-0 against Watford where you couldn’t fault the players for work-rate or commitment.

The area that has been most challenging for Millwall ever since they escaped League One in 2017 has been in the final third.

They can match or surpass opponents when it comes to scrapping and snarling, but players who can make things happen on a consistent basis in front of goal are usually out of the club’s price range.

Just look at Watford’s attack for proof of that. They reputedly wanted £40million for Ismaila Sarr when Liverpool came sniffing in the summer. Andre Gray cost £11.5m from Burnley in 2017.

Perhaps Millwall’s best hope is to raid the lower leagues. Troy Deeney joined the Hornets from Walsall in 2010 and has paid back his transfer – initially £250,000 and rising to £500,000 – many times over.

But for every success story, there are so many failures.

Millwall pinned a lot of their hopes on Troy Parrott. The Tottenham teenager arrived with a big reputation and hype but has not backed it up in SE16.

You can argue that he has had few genuine scoring chances, dropping deeper to try and get involved, but the knack of goalscoring involves being in the right place at the right time.

Parrott did win the penalty for Jed Wallace to convert against Coventry but he has not been the missing link – that clinical predator – that the Lions were hoping for.

With that being the case, Millwall need to be robust defensively. They have only scored more than once in four Championship fixtures.

Rowett has continued to tweak the shape and personnel during a difficult run of results and settled on 5-3-2 for the Huddersfield and Watford encounters.

“We’ve played lots of formations and struggled to score goals,” he said.

“At the moment that is our team. It means what we have to do is play a formation where we don’t concede lots of goals and still have a chance in the attacking sense.”

The best time to address the squad’s shortcomings will be in the summer transfer window. January always tends to be trickier for negotiations with the Covid-19 pandemic adding complexity.

Not only do clubs not want to deplete their numbers in case of an outbreak, but football owners still don’t know when stadiums will be back fully operational to ease some of the financial burden.

The absence of supporters has definitely had an influence on Millwall’s struggles at The Den. But if their record there this season was still the same with the turnstiles open then Rowett and his players would have been engulfed in a storm.

But I really don’t think it would be. He only had 12 home league games before lockdown and lost just two of them. Their average points return per game in that period was 1.66. That looks healthy contrasted to this season. The Lions have scored just nine goals in 12 Championship matches – 19 of their 30 points banked away from SE16.

No wonder Rowett told his troops to treat Tuesday’s contest like they were the visiting team.

The closing stages showed that Millwall were happy to protect a hard-earned point and they shackled Watford’s offensive play better in the second period.

Many of their problems in the first half came from not moving the ball forward quickly enough, helping the Hornets pressing game.

There were a few scary moments – not least when Shaun Hutchinson turned a Tom Cleverley free-kick against the upright. Credit to debutant Maikel Kieftenbeld for getting a vital touch straight after to deny a tap in.

Millwall thought they had the lead in first-half stoppage time when Jake Cooper emphatically headed in Jed Wallace’s free-kick but the offside flag went up. The replays were inconclusive, with no VAR to pass judgement.

Just minutes earlier the big Lions centre-back had climbed above Francisco Sierralta, only to see the effort come back off the post.

You get what can be termed as good draws and bad draws. This certainly felt like the former.

Ryan Leonard. He’s making playing centre-back look easy.

Jake Cooper was unlucky to see his header come back off the right post.

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