Late point-saver against Forest still leaves Millwall feeling short-changed
Millwall 2 Nottingham Forest 2
It will be a consolation to Millwall that they salvaged a point after an enthralling second half but they know it should still have been more.
This was an encounter where the Lions showed their improving pedigree under boss Gary Rowett – but after going ahead through a header by Shaun Williams in the first half, they were almost undone by the spectre of Lewis Grabban, their former striker who squeezed in a couple of goals, perhaps undeservedly so, for Forest.
Fortunately for Millwall, substitute Aiden O’Brien stepped up to level in the dying moments - and it was richly deserved, with Rowett starting down the barrel of what would have been his first home defeat in charge since replacing Neil Harris.
The searing velocity of a climax at The Den at least sent the home fans away relieved, if not delighted.
Millwall were without midfielder Ryan Leonard, with a rib injury as well as Northern Ireland international Shane Ferguson, Tom Elliott and Jason McCarthy. Shaun Hutchison, meanwhile, continued his own recovery with a place on the bench.
Considering the promising run the Lions embarked upon under Rowett, with three wins, two draws and a defeat since taking over at the end of October, victory over an in-form Forest, in fourth, would certainly be a significant statement for all concerned at The Den. Sabri Lamouchi’s men, meanwhile, journeyed to south London following a home defeat to Cardiff City, with questions regarding their overall promotion credentials.
The hosts were first to threaten, but Ben Thompson really should have hit the target with his header from 12 yards when unmarked, after a precise cross from the right by Mahlon Romeo.
Rowett’s side were, though, full of crisp passing and purpose. Therefore, with Forest visibly unsettled and haphazard in possession, it was scarcely a surprise when the Lions took the lead in the 15th minute. Williams was able to patrol into the six yard area unattended - and the midfielder powered a downward header upon meeting Jed Wallace’s outswinging corner. The simplest of breakthroughs for Millwall as Williams netted his second goal in succession in the wake of the weekend draw at Birmingham City.
Romeo tested the visiting keeper Brice Samba with a shot just inside the penalty area, with an incongruous Forest looking anything but a promotion-chasing outfit. The Lions were industrious and controlling the tempo – Jed Wallace once again a buzz bomb of harassment - although Rowett would probably have hoped for an extra cutting edge and imagination in Forest’s penalty area.
Nonetheless, Millwall started the second half in bright fashion and Romeo again was busy driving forward. The right back probably should have done better than fire against the side netting with various options ahead of him.
With only a single goal advantage for their efforts, the Lions had to be careful not to leave themselves open to what would have been an unheralded Forest leveller. Sammy Ameobi, their experienced attacker, offered a warning, slamming a left foot shot from close range which Lions’ keeper Bartosz Bialkowski did well to deflect away with his legs.
Rowett, mindful of Forest’s slightly increased appetite, looked was animated figure in his technical area as the supporters from the east Midlands eventually found their voice behind Bialkowski’s goal. The Lions chief replaced Matt Smith with Tom Bradshaw on the hour mark. But the more significant replacement took place moments later when Grabban – on for Rafa Mir – entered preoceedings.
The striker, with his first touch of the ball, made an instant, crucial, impact by heading home an unlikely equaliser in 63 minutes, when Tiago Silva’s free kick to the far post was headed back into his path for a simple finish. It was all rather unfortunate for Millwall – but the intervention from ex-Lion Grabban served at least to galvanise them. Pressing and asking questions, Forest’s defence made a number of anguished looking clearances, with the end appearing increasingly unpredictable.
On came O’Brien for Jiri Skalak for the final Millwall efforts. Grabban then diverted Ameobi’s shot into the net amid the pockets of intense, late, late drama. Fortunately for Rowett, he saw substitute O’Brien drill home amid a set of ping-pong and a panicked Forest rearguard, sending the Lions fans wild.
Those same supporters recognise this team is developing and the character shown signals real positivity.And with trips to both Bristol City and Derby County looming for the Lions, it will be both a busy and interesting December.
MILLWALL: Bialkowski, M Wallace, Cooper, Williams, J Wallace, Thompson, Smith (Bradshaw 60), Romeo, Pearce, Molumby, Skalak (O’Brien 77)