Clearly wasn’t the evening any of us had in mind. We saved our least impressive performance since the restart for Millwall, perhaps the result of a fourth game in less than two weeks and the intensity of effort in the previous three, perhaps as Millwall’s physical presence and equal determination (their manager pretty much acknowledging before the game that for them it was pretty much win or kiss goodbye to the play-offs) swung the contest. Any other team and we might comment on their discipline, game-plan, and ability to win the key contests on the pitch; but any sort of praise for Millwall sticks in the throat so we’ll forget about that. Suffice to say that after three very tight games which went our way the law of averages said we could well end up on the losing side of another.
We can look at the overall balance of play, possession stats etc, but in the end we lost the game because in the first half a decent chance fell to both of our two forwards and both Hemed and Bonne failed to really test their keeper, let alone convert, and in the second their keeper made a reasonable save from an Aneke effort, while at the other end, after an excellent first-half save to block a one-on-one, Phillips’ turning away of another shot regrettably fell into the path of their guy. And having gone in front Millwall were content to sit behind the ball and see out the game, we were unable to fashion a good opening to level it up despite by then having Aneke, Doughty and Williams on the pitch, plus late on Sarr as an extra forward in an act of desperation.
I don’t think we should overlook the fact that the defence performed as well as it had done in the previous three games. It wasn’t an outright error by Phillips for their goal, while Lockyer and Pearce continued their excellent form (albeit Millwall had a fair claim for a penalty in the first half as a result of a little manhandling from a set piece to prevent their guy getting what looked like being a clear header into the net) and Pratley slotted in as a third centre-back when we adjusted the formation. The problem wasn’t there but rather in being outmuscled in midfield (especially when Pratley dropped deeper) and, as Bowyer acknowledged after the game, failing to take either of the two good first-half chances. Score then and we can play the more containing game, then looking to the subs to make use of the probable extra space. Wasn’t to be.
So we keep our fingers crossed for the games being played today and tomorrow. On the face of it Huddersfield and Middlesbrough have winnable games at home, if they both take three points we drop to 20th. Stoke v Barnsley of course means one or both will pick up points, Stoke could go above us on goal difference. Luton have a game at home that they will view as must-win. Hopefully at least we can rely on Brentford and WBA thumping Wigan and Hull respectively, to keep them below us (taking account of Wigan’s prospective points deduction).
Getting down to the final five/six games and it is remarkable that no team finds itself adrift (Wigan may technically be bottom but their run of form still gives them a shout). Those around us have come back with the same attitude as us and no doubt the picture and the odds will shift with just about each passing day. Nothing we can do now until Tuesday except wait, watch and hope, while Bowyer and his team of course have to plan for Brentford, looks at who has the legs to start. Last night may have been a missed opportunity but it’s done, I really don’t care that it was Millwall or about our recent record against them, I’d be bemoaning the three points that got away whoever it was against. other than the fact that three points got away. On points-per-game we are still out of the relegation places. May it stay that way.