Olkowski 48 O’Neil 60
BY JAKE SANDERS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF BOLTON STADIUM
If Millwall are prioritising the league over their mouth-watering FA Cup quarter-final tie against Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday, then they’ve got a funny way of showing it.
Make no mistake, this felt like the Lions had hit rock-bottom. They were outfought, outplayed and outworked by a team that had won just two of their previous 25 Championship matches. But Bolton certainly didn’t perform like a team that are enduring extreme difficulties both on and off the pitch at present. As for Millwall, they were not just beaten, they were humiliated.
They were embarrassed, and on this evidence, their dogfight could go right to the very last. That crucial meeting with Wigan Athletic on May 5 is shaping up to possibly be a straight survival shoot-out between the Lions and the Latics. Paul Cook’s side suffered late heartache at Reading on Saturday and sit just two points better off than the South Londoners.
Luckily, Rotherham United lost at Sheffield United earlier in the day, meaning Millwall travel to St Andrews tomorrow night sitting outside the relegation zone by the skin of their teeth. But with the Lions on FA Cup duty next weekend, by the time they kick-off against the Seagulls on Sunday they might yet find themselves in the bottom three for the first time since Boxing Day.
This was not only their 18th league defeat of the campaign – already six more than the whole of last season – it was their fourth in succession, which marks their joint-worst league run under Neil Harris. Another one at Birmingham City tomorrow would be unthinkable.
The last time the Lions suffered four consecutive league defeats was in October 2016. That season ended in despair with a 3-1 defeat to Barnsley in the League One play-off final at Wembley – and if Millwall don’t buck their ideas up, then this season might also finish on a sour note.
And it’s some of their defending that is part of the reason that Harris’ side are in this mess. He described it as unacceptable but, in truth, that’s being kind.
Their defending was okay in the first-half. Goalkeeper Jordan Archer wasn’t called into action at any point. But it was a drab affair, with virtually nothing in it. Corners were exchanged, while both teams were restricted to pot-shots from distance. It was low on quality, with Ben Thompson pulling the strings in midfield, as he has been for much of the last few weeks.
But in fairness, it was a half of football that the majority of the 13,035 inside the University of Bolton Stadium would have probably forgotten about by the time they tucked into their half-time cup of tea or coffee. Yes, it really was that bad. It couldn’t get any worse, surely?
Just three minutes later, it did get worse – from a Lions perspective, that is. Callum Connolly picked out Pawel Olkowski and the Polish international skipped past James Meredith before unleashing a perfect low finish into the bottom corner.
But like so many times previously, that setback woke Millwall up, although Jake Cooper’s header – cleared off the line by Joe Williams – was the only time they threatened an equaliser. And in the blink of an eye, Bolton had clear daylight.
Williams showed his effectiveness at both ends of the pitch, putting Gary O’Neil – who somehow managed to get in behind the entire defence – in the clear, but with plenty left to be done. And although Mahlon Romeo managed to recover, as did three other Lions defenders, the 35-year-old sent him inside and then out before arrowing a shot into the bottom corner past Jordan Archer.
The 700 or so travelling fans could hardly believe what they were watching. Harris was stood motionless on the touchline – shell-shocked.
And although Millwall didn’t give up hope of salvaging what would have been an undeserved point, on another day, Bolton could have scored five or six.
They should have been out of sight by the time Lee Gregory wonderfully flicked home Jed Wallace’s low cross with three minutes left on the clock. Despite having little say on the final outcome. It was his 11th goal of the season – one more than last season – and his best haul at Championship level.
Tom Elliott looped a header on to the roof of the net in added-time before Gregory was unable to direct his header goalwards, but it wasn’t meant to be and Millwall remain deep in trouble.
Millwall (4-4-2): Archer 6, Romeo 5, Cooper 6, Pearce 6, Meredith 5 (Marshall 61, 5), J. Wallace 6, Thompson 7, Williams 5 (Morison 69, 5), Ferguson 6, Elliott 4, Gregory 5. Not used: Martin, Hutchinson, Tunnicliffe, Leonard, O’Brien.