Cooper 48 Gregory 51
SHEFFIELD UNITED 3
Sharp 40 McGoldrick 79 pen, 88
BY RICHARD CAWLEY AT THE DEN
Millwall’s maddening inability to shut down a game at The Den surfaced once again on Saturday – and that is putting them deep in trouble at the wrong end of the Championship table.
It’s now 10 points that have been tossed away by the Lions as they continue to concede late on in SE16.
Millwall need to show their character – something which has never really been in question during Neil Harris’ reign – because this dreadful run of form needs to be urgently arrested.
The South Londoners have taken one point from a possible 21 to slide to 23rd in the table. It is comfortably the worst start to a campaign since Harris was appointed permanent manager.
The Lions are seven points behind their points total at the same stage of last season – they have scored four less goals and conceded six more.
It is that defensive vulnerability which is the biggest shock. Millwall’s highly successful acclimatisation to Championship life last season was built on no-nonsense, committed and organised defending.
But they are proving easier to unpick in the 2018-19 campaign.
The first and third United goals were painfully easy as Mark Duffy played one-twos and got away from his labouring chasers to supply Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick – both unmarked – with close-range finishes.
Duffy had time on the ball on Saturday afternoon and made the most of it. When he was replaced in the 90th minute, he had already inflicted the necessary damage.
And it was the visitors who wanted it more going down the home stretch. Once McGoldrick had made it 2-2 from the penalty spot, Chris Wilder’s side played with an urgency and confidence they could take all the points back up to Sheffield. There was no thought process that a draw at The Den was a satisfactory outcome.
Millwall had looked more like their old selves in the early stages of the second half and were rewarded with a reversal of fortunes in the scoreline as well.
Jake Cooper produced a thumping back-post header from Shaun Williams’ corner to level matters up before Lee Gregory’s hard-working, industrious shift was capped by his first league goal since the opening day. Ryan Leonard’s long ball forward was perfectly measured for the Lions striker, who took a touch before finishing sweetly past Dean Henderson with the outside of his right boot.
Then came a significant miss for Millwall. Aiden O’Brien, who struggled for any influence on proceedings, hooked over from close range after Steve Morison nodded down a Williams free-kick. That could have been game over.
But from there it all went wrong. Is that down to a lack of confidence in the group after their previous implosions? Maybe. A need for fresh legs to be introduced earlier to try and stem attacks? Possibly, but then it is always easy with the benefit of hindsight.
It all comes back to solidity. Millwall did throw themselves in front of shots and clear their lines but they have not been tight enough – concentration levels have not been maintained over 90 minutes. The Lions’ only clean sheet came at Blackburn in August – they had four at the same stage of last season.
With all but one of their points coming at home up to this point, their form at The Den is critical to success – or survival, if you look at the bottom line requirements.
In terms of the two penalties awarded by Andy Davies to the Blades, the first was extremely harsh.
To start with, I’m not even convinced the perceived handball by Shaun Williams is inside the area. And secondly, there was no intent as he jumped to block at almost point-blank range.
Ben Amos, confident and solid throughout, went the right way to push Billy Sharp’s kick onto his crossbar.
That miss ensured that McGoldrick took over penalty duties when Williams collided with Duffy in the box and he emphatically drove home.
From that point there only looked to be one winner – and that worrying trend of relinquishing advantages continued as the former Ipswich Town attacker casually converted with no-one there to try and apply pressure.
Another problem for Millwall is a lack of continuity to team selection. Harris kept changes to a minimum last season but the Lions have only been unchanged in the league three times in the Championship – and that was the opening to the campaign.
Injuries and a lack of form have seen him continually requiring to switch things around.
There will be another enforced change at Nottingham Forest tonight with Jed Wallace picking up his fifth booking on Saturday.
The winger has not hit the levels of last season, but then that applies to so many of the group. And it deprives Harris of a pacy outlet which Jiri Skalak and Shane Ferguson – both potential replacements if there is not a change of shape – do not possess.
Millwall (4-4-2): Amos 7, Romeo 5, Webster 7, Cooper 7, Meredith 5 (Bradshaw 89), Leonard 7, Williams 6, O’Brien 4 (Ferguson 80), J Wallace 5, Gregory 7, Morison 7 (Elliott 84). Not used: Archer, Tunnicliffe, M Wallace, Skalak.