Gregory 22 O’Brien 54
HULL CITY 2
Grosicki 6 Henriksen 73
BY RICHARD CAWLEY AT THE DEN
“The same faces, the same result – it must be Groundhog Day,” was a frustrated Neil Harris’ first comment as he settled into his seat for a post-match debrief to the press.
And he’s right. We’ve been here before folks this season. On too many occasions.
For those that don’t know Groundhog Day, it’s a film starring Billy Murray as a jaded TV weatherman who can’t leave a snow-hit little American town as he lives the same day – over and over again.
Spoiler alert, if you can have such a thing when it first screened 25 years ago, but Murray’s character has to have the perfect day to finally see time properly progress.
In the period in between he learns, among other things, how to play the piano and ice sculpture. Harris just wants his Millwall side to stay defensively switched on for a touch over 90 minutes.
You don’t always need to be flawless to get your rewards in football, but we all know that fewer mistakes increase the chance of getting a positive result.
Millwall haven’t been as close to perfection often enough in a Championship campaign which is shaping up to be a grind to that 50-point safety total.
They have been punished for mistakes. And Saturday was a pretty severe example of that.
Hull City had two shots on target and scored them both. Bristol City last Sunday? One shot and one goal.
It doesn’t stop there. The 2-2 draw at Nottingham Forest? The hosts had a 100 per cent conversion record. Three of Reading’s four shots on target went in at the Madejski Stadium.
It’s a trend. Swansea’s 2-1 victory in SE16 in early September – two chances and two goals.
If you shoot against the Lions, then you score on most occasions.
I’ve said it before, but there is a vulnerability about Millwall defensively which wasn’t there last season. And that’s puzzling when at the weekend it was the same back five which made them one of the division’s stingiest units in that excellent 2017-18 campaign.
Just look at the goals conceded on Saturday when Mahlon Romeo’s header clear drops to Jarrod Bowen on the edge of the box. Last season? Every possibility there is at least a Lions player competing or charging for that ball. Instead the midfielder had time to slip a pass for Kamil Grosicki to thump past Jordan Archer at his near post.
Millwall were not switched on enough and were made to pay.
And then we come to Hull’s equaliser. Jake Cooper is so good in the air but completely lost Jordy De Wijs as the hosts defended a corner – with Markus Henriksen finishing off from close range.
“It is two free headers in our penalty area,” said Harris.
“I can’t remember a free header for Hull all afternoon [before that]. Individually, that’s not acceptable.”
Rewind 12 months and we’d be praising a last-ditch block. Millwall were defending like their Championship lives depended on it. And not doing that now is putting them at greater risk of a return to League One.
The problem when you are making fundamental mistakes is that you don’t look at the positive things from a match. There was plenty to like about the performance against Hull City.
Their equalising goal underlined they are anything but just a long-ball team.
Aiden OBrien’s cheeky flick to play a one-two with James Meredith down the left ended with the Australian sending over a deep cross which Lee Gregory glanced home.
That was the striker’s eighth goal of the campaign and 72nd for the Lions.
Millwall were dominant for such a long period.
Steve Morison brilliantly picked out Mahlon Romeo in the box – ignoring the charge of Jed Wallace down the right – but the full-back, on his weaker left foot, could only drive straight at David Marshall.
Jake Cooper was underneath a Wallace corner and failed to get the connection needed as the ball travelled harmlessly wide.
Wallace has shown signs in recent weeks of getting back to the kind of form which attracted Middlesbrough’s interest in the summer transfer window. De Wijs made a huge block on his shot after the winger was cued up by O’Brien.
Another storming run by the former Portsmouth and Wolves man fizzled out inside the Tigers penalty area.
O’Brien’s cross, which might have got the slightest of touches by Gregory, just missed Steve Morison’s swipe at the back post.
Nine minutes into the second half Millwall deservedly went in front.
Morison did well to hold off a Hull challenger and fed the Republic of Ireland international, who set his sights before rifling a left-footer past Marshall from about 20 yards.
The celebration saw the Lions players make a joke about their injury list – lifting O’Brien off the floor and beckoning as if a stretcher was needed.
He had been a doubt with a cracked knee. Gregory and Morison, also touch and go with a stomach tear and hamstring niggle, are not at 100 per cent. Millwall lack the luxury of being able to rest up key men.
O’Brien can be a frustrating figure. It was only his second goal this season and first since the opening day. For a player of his talent, he should be producing more of an impact in the final third on a regular basis.
Shaun Hutchinson had his head in his hands after heading a Wallace cross wide. Home supporters were doing the same when their side conceded their 35th goal in 21 league matches.
Millwall’s least effective spell came after that as they needed to try and find a fifth goal of the afternoon.
Ryan Leonard rolled an unconvincing effort wide from a Gregory lay-off as the Lions could only finish with a whimper.
The draw was enough to lift Millwall out of the bottom three but that didn’t make the final outcome any easier to swallow when you considered their superiority.