BY ALEX GRACE AT ST ANDREWS TRILLION TROPHY STADIUM
“We are only looking up”. That is the message that Gary Rowett wants to send out not just to his players, but everyone associated with Millwall.
The Lions stretched their unbeaten run to four matches on Saturday but would have been disappointed to leave Birmingham with only one point and not all three.
The message of positivity and setting sights higher up the Championship table comes after Rowett’s men extended their undefeated sequence on Saturday and took an 11th point from a possible 18 under the former Birmingham City manager.
In that period they have chalked up a first away win of the league campaign and suffered just one defeat. Things are going well for Rowett at Millwall.
Before last weekend Millwall were the only side in the Championship not to have scored from outside the box – a fortnight later and they have two to their name. If Jed Wallace’s free-kick at Swansea was special, then Shaun Williams’ effort here was exceptional.
It was made all the better by the fluidness of the counter attack that led to it.
It caps off a very productive period for Williams, who once again looks like playing a vital role in the Lions midfield.
Rowett’s desire to be versatile means the South London club play a number of formations.
We have seen the 45-year-old start with three different ones – 4-4-1-1, 5-2-3 and 4-2-3-1. Republic of Ireland international Williams has started every game since Rowett succeeded Neil Harris and looks very comfortable doing whatever his manager is asking him to do.
Another player who has been on fire since the arrival of Rowett is Jed Wallace. The winger has been involved in nine goals in his last nine games.
It is clear to see that while Rowett has heavily praised the work done by both Neil Harris and Dave Livermore at Millwall, he has his own style that he wants to implement, and we saw that at St Andrews.
Millwall were under a little period of pressure from the hosts in the first half but there was a notable difference in how the Lions dealt with the threat.
The visitors played out from the back rather than just taking the option to launch a ball down field and potentially lose possession. Instead we saw a sequence of passes between Alex Pearce, Jake Cooper and Jayson Molumby, which ended up with Millwall keeping possession of the ball and able to start their own moves forward.
Rowett said after last week’s 2-2 draw with Wigan that Matt Smith could count himself unlucky not to be a regular starter after coming off the bench in back-to-back home games to score. He was given his chance from the start in the Midlands and will be disappointed not to have got on the scoresheet once again.
Smith was denied by a superb save in the first half and then headed Jed Wallace’s curling free-kick wide which would have handed Millwall a two-goal cushion. His hold-up play was vital as Millwall caused the home side problems with their high press. The Lions we are seeing away from home now are a lot more confident than the side we had seen previously.
Jiri Skalak was handed his first start under Rowett – his last time being in the side from the off was the 4-0 defeat at Fulham in August. His defensive work was impressive. Millwall were a strong unit that Birmingham found hard to break down, as Swansea found previously.
Luck was something that seemed to desert Millwall towards the end of the Harris era, but it returned on Saturday.
Pep Clotet felt his side should have had two penalties. There was a definite case for one of those. Cooper looked to have pulled back Alvaro Gimenez early in the second half but Millwall got away with it.
To conclude, there is an air of positivity at Millwall as we head into a busy December.
Nottingham Forest visit The Den on Friday night. It is a game that could tell us exactly how far Rowett’s men could go this season and where they should be aiming for.
Who knows, a good December could have the Lions very much in the play-off picture heading into 2020.
Millwall (4-2-3-1) Bialkowski 7, Romeo 7, Pearce 6, Cooper 7, M Wallace 6, Williams 8, Molumby 7, J Wallace 8, Skalak 7 (Bodvarsson 85), Thompson 7 (O’Brien 89), Smith 7 (Bradshaw 85). Not used: Steele, Brown, Mitchell, Mahoney.
PICTURES BY BRIAN TONKS