Millwall and Fulham had to share the points In a lively London derby at The Den after Aleksander Mitrovic's early goal was cancelled out by a controversial finish from Jon Dadi Bodvarsson.
Winless in three league games, Gary Rowett made three changes to the side that lost 2-0 to West Bromwich Albion on Sunday, as Tom Bradshaw, Alex Pearce and Bodvarsson came into the side for the visit of third-place Fulham. Shaun Williams, Aiden O'Brien and Matt Smith dropped out of the starting eleven.
Undefeated in six league games, Scott Parker made two changes to the Fulham side that beat Blackburn Rovers four days prior; Harry Arter and Aboubakar Kamara came into the team in place of Kevin McDonald and Ivan Cavaleiro.
Coming into the game at the Den, Fulham had taken just one point from their last seven away London league derbies (D1 L6) since winning 3-0 at Millwall in April 2018. However, Millwall had lost their last three league matches against Fulham, failing to score in each defeat and had not defeated Fulham at home since 1982.
History looked to be repeating itself as the visitors made a fast start to the game.
It took Fulham only three minutes to take the lead through Mitrovic, tapping in a delightfully weighted Joe Bryan cross from six yards for his 21st goal of the campaign and third consecutive appearance in which he has scored against Millwall.
Millwall were quick to respond through Bodvarsson only five minutes later but in rather more farcical fashion.
A Jed Wallace corner was met by Shaun Hutchinson on the penalty spot as he headed it back towards the far post. Bradshaw looked to have helped it on to Bodvarsson, who was standing in an offside position and the Icelandic international duly hooked the ball into the back of the net from two yards out. Like both sets of fans, Bodvarsson waited for the offside flag that never came. But neither did the linesman move towards the halfway line to reward the goal.
It took referee Andrew Madley, consulting with his assistant, almost 60 seconds before the goal was eventually awarded, much to the despair of the travelling fans and Fulham bench.
Millwall’s controversial goal signalled the start of their dominance in the first half and the Lions thought they had the lead their football deserved in the 21st minute as Mahlon Romeo was brought down by Joe Bryan in the Fulham box.
After good work from Jed Wallace to set the young Millwall right-back through on goal, Romeo checked back onto his left foot before he was brought down. Madley did not hesitate in giving the penalty but Jed Wallace had his head in his hands only a minute later as he sent the ball flying over the bar.
It was major let-off for Scott Parker’s side but Millwall’s attack could not be tempered as Marek Rodak’s goal continued to be besieged by the likes of Romeo, Wallace, Bradshaw and Bodvarsson but the Lions could find no way through.
The second half started more evenly but it took until the 62nd minute for Fulham to register another effort. Kamara carried the ball 35 yards through the heart of the Millwall midfield before unleashing a shot wide from the edge of the box.
Millwall came forth once more with Bradshaw put through on goal by Bodvarsson, however the Welsh international could only find the arms of a relieved Rodak from 12 yards.
Millwall had further chances through Bodvarsson and substitute Ryan Leanord but Fulham held firm and nearly stole the victory in added time at the end of the second half.
In front of their raucous away fans, Fulham won a corner with only seconds left on the clock. It was swung in by substitute Cavaleiro and met at the front post by an onrushing Neeskens Kebano. Kebano glanced the ball goal wards as the crowd looked on helplessly. There was a collective sign of relief amongst the home faithful as the ball rebounded off the crossbar and away from danger, leaving both sides with a point and both managers feeling like they could and should have won it.
Mahlon Romeo is Maturing
As the clock ticked past 21 minutes, Jed Wallace found space in the centre of the Fulham half before feeding Romeo on the edge of the Fulham box.
Romeo shifted the ball from his right foot to his left before being taken down by a lunging Bryan. Madley did not hesitate in pointing to the spot for a Millwall penalty.
Wallace ultimately and spectacularly blazed the penalty over the bar but it didn’t take away from the quick feet of Romeo.
Millwall’s young right-back has always been adept in attack, but it is in defence that Romeo has shown his true maturity.
On 56 minutes, Fulham thought they had finally set Joe Bryan through on goal but Romeo was one step ahead of the play. As the Fulham left-back looked to set himself for a shot on goal, a well-timed sliding tackle by Romeo in his own box dispossessed Bryan and removed the danger. It wasn’t fancy, but it was mightily effective.
Romeo continued his dominance against Cavaleiro on Fulham’s left side as the half progressed and the young Antiguan consistently came out victorious.
Over the 90 minutes, Romeo came up against Kamara, Cavaleiro, Bryan, Bobby Decordova-Reid and Kebano on his right hand side. Not once did he flinch.
It was a formidable performance from Romeo who has, at times, received fair criticism for his defensive performances, but Wednesday night showed how far he has come in such a short space of time. Under the guidance of Rowett, Romeo’s prospects are boundless.
A lot has changed in 175 days
A lot has happened since that warm Wednesday night in August last year when Fulham turned over a meek Millwall side at Craven Cottage.
Two goals from Cavaleiro, one from Anthony Knockaert and a penalty from Mitrovic put to bed a Lions side that managed only one shot on target and 174 passes over 90 minutes. Fulham amassed an extraordinary 990 passes in comparison and 7 shots on target as they kept their visitors to only 15% possession. It was a masterclass in modern football.
Neil Harris was to last only two more months in charge of his beloved Millwall as he was replaced by Rowett with only 15 points from the first 13 league games.
Survival was the first priority for Rowett but after wins at home to Stoke City, Charlton Athletic and away to Swansea City, Millwall fans began to dream. Rowett did not disappoint.
Millwall went unbeaten in seven under Rowett as he adapted a 5-2-3 formation with Jed Wallace as the focal point, ably supported by stand out performances from Jayson Molumby, Bartosz Białkowski and Murray Wallace, to name just a few.
Wednesday epitomised just how far this Millwall side have come under the guidance of Rowett.
Again set up in a 5-2-3, with Ryan Woods playing the Paul Scholes role in front of Jake Cooper, Hutchinson and Pearce, Rowett encourage Romeo and Murray Wallace to get forward and find the Millwall strikers beyond the Fulham defence.
In the 32 minute, Rowett’s tactics came to the fore. A curling through ball from Murray Wallace deep in the Millwall half at left-back was beautifully weighted for the onrushing Jed Wallace. If not for a loose first touch, the Millwall striker would have had the freedom of south London to put the hosts in front.
Not only were Millwall a constant threat in attack, the Lions were impenetrable in defence for much of the 90 minutes.
Parker tried everything. Kamara on the right, Kamara on the left, Mitrovic to the left, Mitrovic to the right, he brought on Kebano, Cavaleiro and pushed Tom Cairney forward, and still Fulham could find no way through the Millwall defence. Over 90 minutes, Fulham manufactured only two shots on target.
Millwall did not ultimately win the game but with Rowett at the helm, the future looks bright under his stewardship.