BY DANIEL MARSH
Millwall must be absolutely sick of the sight of Queens Park Rangers.
It was just shy of eight months ago in W12 that the Lions’ late charge for the play-offs was halted in an enthralling topsy-turvy encounter at the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium as they came out on the wrong end of a 4-3 thriller.
It was the same old story in midweek for the Lions, with an almost identical ending as they surrendered a 2-0 first-half lead to leave them pointless in west London – it’s now more than 32 years since Millwall last won at QPR. But that wretched record was there to be quashed on Wednesday night.
The Lions raced into a commanding position through Jed Wallace and Mason Bennett – the first time that Millwall have netted twice in the first half all season. Unfortunately, a second-half capitulation rendered those strikes useless on the night.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Lions should have been out of sight long before Charlie Austin sparked the hosts revival in the 51st minute – QPR manager Mark Warburton admitted as much himself after the match.
Some of the chances that Millwall wasted were beyond gilt-edged when you look back.
Bennett should have buried the chance he blew moments before his goal when he was abandoned by a daydreaming QPR defence, and Shaun Hutchinson spurned two golden chances either side of Austin’s strike which clawed the hosts back into the game.
But no matter how deep the inquest could go into Millwall’s flurry of wasted chances, there’s no getting away from the fact that all three of the goals they gave away were incredibly soft.
It’s very unlike the Lions to be so tame when it comes to defensive stability, which makes their second- half collapse all the more bizarre and frustrating.
Time and time again Millwall’s solid foundations have come to their rescue when their attacking returns have been blunt this season – how ironic that on an occasion where the Lions produced some of their sharpest attacking play in a while that it was let down by a defensive horror show.
The R’s second goal was particularly poor, and was pretty much all of Millwall’s own making – the Lions were in trouble from the second that skipper Alex Pearce unnecessarily sent an undercooked pass forward into midfield.
It was Pearce who allowed Austin to ghost ahead of him to net QPR’s opener, and he was also the man who Jordy de Wijs, pictured inset, left behind to power home the hosts late winner.
George Evans is now seemingly a fixture in midfield, but it would be a surprise if we don’t see Murray Wallace restored to his original position in the centre of defence sooner rather than later following his return from a broken foot. It feels like a defensive unit of Wallace, Hutchinson and Jake Cooper was always the long-term plan, but the display in this game is likely to accelerate that.
Ryan Woods has polarized opinions during his second spell in SE16. He showcased glimpses of his capabilities when football returned behind closed doors at the end of last season, but he’s failed to impact games on a regular basis this term, especially for someone who you’d assume commands a sizable chunk of a small budget at this level.
Gary Rowett has tweaked the set-up in recent weeks, moving to a three-man midfield. It’s a switch which has paid dividends for Woods, who looks far more effective in a trio than he had previously in a duo. He really pulled the strings for the Lions in midweek.
Only Wallace (40) completed more passes than Woods (33) in midweek, as he conducted the majority of the Lions’ play through the middle. It certainly felt like one of the most productive nights Millwall have had in terms of creating chances for a while, and Woods was at the heartbeat of that.
His through ball for Wallace’s opener was weighted perfectly for the Lions forward to ease Millwall into an early lead.
He would have had another assist later in the half were it not for Bennett’s miss, and there was a similar raking pass which would have found Ben Thompson had the Lions man managed to keep his footing.
There were question marks around Woods’ future after Millwall’s last trip to QPR in July, and it’s likely that the future of several players will come to the fore in the next few weeks with the Lions season winding down to a close.
The nine remaining games is the perfect opportunity for Gary Rowett to stew over some key decisions on personnel ahead of next season.
Millwall’s loan signings have been hit and miss this season, and bar Scott Malone – who Rowett has openly admitted to wanting to sign on a permanent basis – it’s certainly not clearcut that Woods or Kenneth Zohore will be back at the Den next season, nor any of the other names who have contracts expiring in the upcoming months.
Ryan Woods. Best of the bunch for Millwall in the first half – unfortunately no one really did themselves justice after the break.
Millwall’s opening goal. Woods’ through ball was picture-perfect for Jed Wallace to finish coolly.
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