This afternoon, Blues fell to a 3-1 defeat at the Den after a very underwhelming performance. In truth, the margin of defeat probably should’ve been far worse had it not been for Etheridge making some brilliant saves.
Irrespective of the result, today was a sad but special day as Blues fans, Millwall fans and indeed fans of all teams across the country paid their respects for young Bluenose Arthur Labinjo-Hughes who was brutally murdered by his step-mother and father after giving him horrific physical and mental abuse. It was a story that shocked the nation and united us in our grief for young Arthur who should still be with us today.
Ahead of kick-off, Blues players paid tribute to Arthur by wearing ‘Arthur we love you’ t-shirts. As expected, Bowyer continued with the back 5, however, was forced into a change from last weeks XI as Neil Etheridge replaced the injured Matija Sarkic.
The game started off with Millwall dominating the ball, albeit, not really creating any clear-cut chances. After 6 minutes, play was stopped as fans, players and staff everyone in the stadium gave a minute of applause in remembrance of Arthur— it was a truly touching moment and it’s such a shame he wasn’t able to see how much he was loved.
After play restarted, it didn’t take long for Millwall to take the lead. The hosts used a corner routine off the training ground in which a give and go took out the whole defence and led to the ball finding George Evans in the centre of the box whose shot was well blocked, however, Wallace was in the right place at the right time to give the hosts the lead.
Blues didn’t respond well to conceding the goal and for the next 10 minutes, it seemed that if anyone was to score the next goal, it would be Millwall. The host’s lead should’ve been doubled in those 10 minutes as Danny McNamara put in a peach of a cross for Benik Afobe to head home, however, the striker couldn’t direct his header on target.
There was a spell where Blues began to keep the ball on the deck and looked as if they may get themselves back in the game. McGree slipped a ball in behind for Hogan who cut inside and ran into the box, unfortunately for Blues, his near-post effort was an easy hold for Bialkowski, nevertheless, it was much more positive from Blues.
Although Blues were doing a better job at keeping possession, we still struggled to create any clear cut chances and that would eventually cost us. Down the other end, Blues conceded a corner and would end up conceding another goal from a corner as Bradshaw got ahead of Pedersen and powered a header past Etheridge.
Blues did have a chance to get one back before the break as Hogan flicked on Bela’s cross into the path of Deeney, unfortunately, the host’s made an excellent last-ditch block to deny him.
Half Time: Millwall 2-0 Blues
There was one change at the break for Blues as Jutkiewicz replaced Bela and Blues adopted a back 4.
Millwall has the first chance of the half to add to the scoring after a brilliant give-and-go between Jed Wallace and Tom Bradshaw. Wallace’s perfectly timed chip went over the heads of Sunjic, Pedersen and Roberts and the ball bounced up for Bradshaw to hit on the half-volley which forced a good save out of Etheridge.
After adopting the back 4, Blues looked much better going forward. McGree found some space in midfield and played the ball into Deeney who played a nice flick into Hogan who set it up for Deeney to smash into the roof of the net. A beautiful team goal that left the ‘keeper with no chance and it seemed with 35 minutes to play that Blues were in with a real chance of getting something.
However, momentum seemed to be with Millwall after the goal. The host’s had a great chance to wrap up the game as Wallace found Afobe unmarked on the edge of the box, whose subsequent shot forced Etheridge to make another good save, albeit, one he would be expected to make.
Millwall did eventually wrap up the game as once again, McNamara was able to get past Pedersen far too easily before teeing up George Evans who smashed the ball into the net giving Etheridge no chance.
Millwall looked for a fourth goal and seemed as if they were going to get it after Wallace’s shot was well saved by Etheridge, however, it landed at Malone’s foot for the rebound, but once again, Etheridge stood strong and tipped it over the bar to make an excellent double save.
Blues did have a chance for consolation in the final two minutes of the game, however, substitute Chuks Aneke got his effort wrong and fired his shot wide.
Full Time: Millwall 3 – 1 Blues
It was a very disappointing result after we got ourselves back in the game with Deeney’s strike, however, Millwall 100% deserved the win and had it not been for Etheridge, it could’ve been a lot more embarrassing. Bowyer said post-match that we lost too many battles and his analysis couldn’t be more right. Millwall is a very tough place to come— they’ve only lost 3 home games all season. They are a very physical side, therefore, to come away from Millwall you have to fight for every ball and Blues didn’t do that today; Millwall were better in every department.
The second half also clearly shows why Bowyer has been sticking with a back 5. In the first half, Millwall didn’t have any clearcut chances— they scored both of their goals from corners, however, Blues had no clearcut chances of their own. Contrast that to the second half when Blues changed to a back 4. Blues looked much better going forward and were creating more chances, however, at the other end the defence was all over the place and it seemed like every time a Millwall player cut inside, they would be able to get into the box and have an effort.
One positive, however, was Neil Etheridge. Ethers had a terrible experience with Covid and it took him a long time to recover from that. I think some fans were worried when it was announced he was playing given Sarkic has done an excellent job this season and Ethers has been out for a long time, however, he saved every shot he could. I generally think we have 2 of the best ‘keepers in the league who are going to push each other on to be even better and hopefully we may be able to keep Sarkic for next season.
Next up we play Cardiff back at St Andrew’s. Cardiff have had a woeful season so far, hovering just above the relegation zone. However, they have been looking a bit better in the past few weeks, despite losing to Sheffield United. We certainly will need to play better if we want to pick up 3 points and it will be a good opportunity for us to distance ourselves from a relegation battle.