Millwall needed a late equaliser from Aiden O'Brien against Nottingham Forest on Friday Night as they moved to six home games unbeaten following their third consecutive league draw.
Having only experienced one defeat in his time in charge of the Lions, Gary Rowett was able to name an unchanged side for the visit of Nottingham Forest, following his side’s draw away to Birmingham City a week prior.
Sabri Lamouchi made the trip south with a surprising decision to leave his two top-scorers on the bench at The Den as Rafa Mir and Sammy Ameobi were preferred to Lewis Grabban and Joe Lolley up-front for Nottingham Forest in a defensive-looking 5-3-2 formation.
The risk failed to pay off for the visitors in the first half as they were overwhelmed in midfield by their hosts and, in particular, Jed Wallace.
It took only 15 minutes for Millwall to take the lead as Wallace registered his fifth assist of the season.
Millwall’s talisman stepped up to swing in a tantalising corner that was met by a flying Shaun Williams, making his 250th appearance for the club, with a decisive header into the top-left corner. Brice Samba watched on helpless in the Forest goal as Millwall took a deserved 1-0 lead.
The Lions continued their dominance as they pushed for a second.
Forest couldn’t catch their breath in the first 45 minutes as Mahlon Romeo, Wallace and Ben Thompson all had opportunities to extend Millwall’s lead but aside from the opening goal, Rowett’s men were missing that clinical edge in the final third to take the game away from their visitors.
Jed Wallace started the second half in much the same vein as the first.
In the 46th minute, he found himself surrounded by two opposition defenders deep in the Nottingham Forest half on the right-hand side touchline. A fake, step-over and through ball later, and Wallace had played Romeo through on goal.
The Millwall wing-back found himself in acres of space as he carried the ball into the box. A more composed and capable player might have done better, but Romeo could only send the ball into the side-netting from eight yards.
Two minutes later, Forest finally showed signs of life.
Alfa Semedo found himself in some rare space inside the Millwall box following a loose pass from Jake Cooper. Semedo reacted quickly and fired the ball low to Bartosz Białkowski’s left, but the Millwall goalkeeper was equal to it to tip the ball wide. It was Nottingham Forest’s first effort on goal.
In the 62nd minute the game turned on its head with the introduction of Forest striker - and less than fan favourite at the Den - Lewis Grabban.
Less than 60 seconds later, the former Millwall striker had equalised.
With his first touch of the game, Grabban found himself one yard out, facing an empty net, following a header across goal from Joe Worrall at the back post from a deep free-kick by Tiago Silva. Grabban couldn’t believe his luck as he wheeled away in celebration having scored his ninth goal of the Championship campaign in the easiest of circumstances.
His second goal, just over 20 minutes later, required a lot more skill and effort.
Following the dispossession of Murray Wallace, Grabban drove towards the box before feeding Ameobi to the left. The former Newcastle United winger found some space and fired the ball low across the box which a stretching Grabban did well to divert towards goal from eight yards.
Millwall, so dominant in the first 45 minutes, now found themselves 2-1 behind with only two minutes of normal time remaining.
As Rowett conceded after the game, he thought the match was done, but his Lions side do not know when to give up and got the equaliser their endeavours deserved as the game ticked over into the second of five added minutes.
Having already missed opportunities through Jayson Molumby, a penalty shout turned down on Tom Bradshaw, and three opportunities for Cooper to win the game during the second half, Millwall fans had begun to head home when Williams picked up the ball 35 yards out, centre of goal.
Millwall’s number six took three touches to steady himself as he unleashed a fierce strike straight at Samba.
Samba, who had been so good for 92 minutes, took his eyes off the ball for the briefest of moments as he looked to have caught a routine effort. And in that moment, the Congolese goalkeeper only served to spill the ball on a plate for Millwall substitute O’Brien, who made no mistake from four yards.
The sense of relief was palpable across south London as Millwall snatched a point at the death to extend their unbeaten run to five games in the league but the hosts will have felt that a draw was the least they deserved in a game where they manufactured 16 shots.
Another masterclass by Jed Wallace
In the 33rd minute, Wallace picked up the ball on the left hand-side touchline, surrounded by three Nottingham Forest players.
A Cruyff turn and two step-overs later and he was free, effortlessly, to maraud into the box and provide a cross. This time, the end product was missing as the ball sailed over the bar, but the quality to create the opportunity was irrefutable.
A minute later and Wallace found himself in more difficulty on the right-hand side touchline. Another step-over, shimmy and fake, and he was free of two more defenders to carry the ball into space and provide a cross into the box that was deflected away to safety.
Two minutes of individual brilliance in another stand-out performance from Millwall’s number seven that was later described by his manager as, “as good as any display I've seen from a player in the Championship.”
High praise indeed from Rowett but a just and fair assessment of a player who has contributed almost 50% of Millwall’s 25 league goals this season, with five assists and seven goals.
You have to go back to Millwall’s 2-2 draw with Cardiff City in mid-October to find a game when Wallace didn’t have any involvement in a goal. Since then, the former Wolverhampton Wanderers man has been unstoppable and he showed his class again on Friday night.
However, the most impressive aspect of Wallace’s form this season is that he can still get better.
Wallace made 19 crosses on Friday night, and over the season he averages 32 passes per game at a success rate of 68%. His productivity can improve and if his final delivery was only marginally better, he would be in double figures for assists and Millwall would be in the play-offs and celebrating another victory.
Nevertheless, Wallace has been a revelation for Millwall this season and under Rowett, he has a manager who only wishes to appreciate and harness his creativity, rather than stifle or contain it for defensive purposes.
Wallace may only stand at 5ft 10inches and weigh under 70kg, but his growing stature in the game is undeniable and his performances are rightly warranting interest from Premier League clubs. However, potential suitors be warned, you will have to pay dear for his services. Wallace is a rare talent.
Developing that killer instinct
Millwall have not struggled to score goals this season.
It is now two goals in each of their last six home games and they have 25 goals in total for the season. Equally, Millwall have lost only once under Rowett.
However, they have won only twice in the last six games of which they have scored two or more goals. That’s 12 goals for two wins, three draws and one defeat.
Whilst it would be easy to assume that this raises defensive concerns, it is equally symptomatic of a side lacking the ability to finish games off from winning positions.
Millwall have thrown away leads in five games this season, drawing four of those and losing one, gaining four points from a possible 15.
On Friday night, Millwall should have been convincingly ahead prior to the introduction of Grabban.
The opening goal on Friday was Millwall’s tenth from a set-piece this season. And yet, with Millwall’s well-known set-piece goalscoring ability, Rowett will have felt that ten corners over the course of the 90 minutes should have resulted in more than the single goal.
However, Nottingham Forest learned from the mistakes of the first half and were vindicated with two clearances off the line in the second half as they placed three men and a goalkeeper in the goal for corners.
In open play, Millwall found it equally difficult to breakdown the Nottingham Forest defence. They had 16 shots but only five on target.
As Rowett told the press after the game,
“What was probably our downfall was that we needed a bit more craft in the final third and had a poor end product. We scored from the one good delivery we put in tonight, so we thoroughly deserved to be 1-0 up. The disappointment is that we weren't further in front after being so superior all half.”
But Rowett was particularly proud of his side’s fightback:
“At 2-1, I thought it was over but the players don’t do that. The players fought like they always do, we showed drive and desire and proved no game is dead - and that's an admirable quality."
That admirable quality will be the envy of many sides across the division, but if Millwall are to be revered, they will need to find a killer instinct to have any hope of making the play-offs this season.