BY JAKE SANDERS AT LIBERTY STADIUM
This wasn’t fun and, in truth, it has been anything but since Millwall famously knocked Everton out of the FA Cup a fortnight ago.
That memorable evening in late January seems like a distant memory after two extremely lacklustre performances against Rotherham United and then here in South Wales.
If the South Londoners don’t find some goals from somewhere, the Championship table could look a whole lot bleaker than it does right now. The visit of Sheffield Wednesday tonight begins a gruelling run of five fixtures in the next 15 days, but it’s also the perfect opportunity to rack up some victories.
Millwall arrived at the Liberty Stadium having lost just once in eight games, picking up 11 points from their last six Championship outings, to go with their progression in the FA Cup. But they didn’t start the contest like a team in form, more like a side that were still dwelling over dropping two much-needed points against Paul Warne’s side.
As early as the fourth minute, the Lions were on the back foot. Shaun Hutchinson could only half-clear to the edge of the box and Jordan John arrived on cue to crisply drill towards the far corner. Luckily for the visitors, unlike some of his defenders, Jordan Archer was alive and alert and parried the strike away from danger.
Despite Millwall enjoying sporadic spells of pressure, whenever Swansea came forward, they looked extremely dangerous and were testing the Lions whenever possible.
And Millwall would once again be thankful for their Scottish international goalkeeper midway through the opening period as he topped his opening save by flinging himself across his goal to claw Matt Grimes’ spectacular 25-yard free-kick away from the top right-hand corner.
On the rare occasions that they got the ball high up the pitch, Lee Gregory was snuffed out by the giant figures that were Mike van der Hoorn and Cameron Carter-Vickers. Swansea’s centre-backs gave him very little change, if any. Quite tellingly, he had fewer touches than any other outfield player that played 90 minutes – 31. Remarkably, that was just seven less than Archer.
Ben Thompson was a rare bright spark for Millwall in what can only be described as a dreadful opening period. To make matters worse, Swansea would break the deadlock just two minutes before the interval to ensure that Neil Harris’ side continue to look for their first away clean sheet since August.
George Byers was the man on the spot, firing high into the top corner from 18-yards after a cruel deflection off Shaun Hutchinson.
It was the 22-year-old’s first ever senior goal.
Murray Wallace – who had suffered plenty in the first 45 minutes – was unsurprisingly hauled off at the break in place of Shane Ferguson. The Northern Ireland international has found his game-time limited since Ben Marshall re-joined the club but was keen to impress on this rare opportunity.
With the on-loan Norwich City winger cup-tied for Saturday’s fifth round clash at AFC Wimbledon, Ferguson will surely be reinstated into the starting 11 at the Cherry Red Records Stadium, but the winger will be hoping his energetic second-half display will give Harris food for thought for the Sheffield Wednesday match this evening.
Ferguson’s first involvement was sending over a delicious cross that was flicked on into the path of Mahlon Romeo. Unfortunately for him, his rasping volley brought the best out of Erwin Mulder and Swansea’s slender lead just about remained as he claimed at the second attempt.
The Dutch goalkeeper was forced into action soon after, tipping Jed Wallace’s well-struck volley over the bar as Millwall began to turn up the heat. But that temporary spell would be as good as it got.
Like so often this season, Millwall did plenty of huffing and puffing in the closing stages. And like against Rotherham last weekend, they mustered up one last chance right at the death.
This time it was Jake Cooper who was left holding his head in his hands. Hutchinson knocked on Ferguson’s corner for his centre-back partner, but the usually-reliable Cooper couldn’t apply the finishing touch and skewed into the 1,100 travelling fans rather than the back of the net.
Millwall (4-3-3): Archer 7, Romeo 6, Hutchinson 7, Cooper 6, M Wallace 4 (Ferguson 45, 7), J Wallace 5, Williams 5 (Morison 74) Leonard 5, Thompson 7, Marshall 5 (O’Brien 84), Gregory 6. Not used: Martin, Pearce, Tunnicliffe, Onyedinma.
Photos by Brian Tonks