Huddersfield Town achieved their first win in three as two late goals from Pipa and Lewis O’Brien put Millwall to bed in an otherwise dour affair in south London.
Story of the match
After the marathon of a 2019/20 Sky Bet Championship season, a sense of deja vú filled the air of south London as Millwall welcomed the Terriers once more to The Den, with the Lions again looking upwards and Huddersfield Town looking over their shoulder at the other end of the table, just as they were back in July.
The day after defeat to the Lions, the Terriers appointed former Leeds United assistant coach, Carlos Corberán as manager, however the Spaniard had thus far been unable to change the fortunes of the Yorkshire side coming into the game.
Languishing in 16th after consecutive defeats to Preston North End and Birmingham City, Corberán found himself forced into five changes and without the likes of Tommy Elphick (knee), Alex Vallejo (in quarantine), and Danny Ward (hamstring) as Naby Sarr, Isaac Mbenza, Lewis O’Brien, Demeaco Duhaney and Alex Pritchard came into the starting line-up.
At the other end of the table, having defeated Preston North End away at Deepdale just three days ago, Millwall welcomed the Terriers tied for fourth and eying second place.
Whilst not present at The Den and still isolating after testing positive for COVID-19, Gary Rowett made two changes to his side, with Connor Mahoney and Tom Bradshaw coming in for Mason Bennett, who moved on to the bench, and the injured Kenneth Zahore missing out.
Utilising attacking wing-backs in a 5-4-1 formation, it was the hosts that started the stronger.
Winning five corners inside the first 15 minutes, Millwall were overwhelming the Huddersfield midfield but unable to convert half-chances as Jake Cooper and Scott Malone wasted openings in threatening positions.
In the fifth minute, Cooper put a tame shot straight at Ben Hamer from ten yards, followed by Scott Malone getting across Sarr at the back post ten minutes later but failed to get enough power on the header to test the Terriers’ goalkeeper.
Against the run of play, the Terriers who broke the deadlock in the 19th minute.
Josh Koroma took advantage of a deflected Adama Diakhaby cross into the box that fell into his path. Ten yards out and coming on to the ball, Koroma scuffed his effort but did enough to sneak it passed Bartosz Białkowski into the bottom right corner of the Millwall net for Koroma’s second goal of the season.
The goal sparked the Terriers into life and shifted the momentum of play as Millwall struggled to deal with the swift transition between defence and attack by the visitors.
With O’Brien and Jonathan Hogg orchestrating the Terriers’ midfield, there were small openings for Mbenza and Koroma but, to the relief of the Millwall bench, both efforts came to nothing and real chances were few and far between for both sides for much of the first half.
To stem the tide, Millwall switched to a more familiar 4-4-2 formation in the 40th minute. With Jed Wallace joining Tom Bradshaw in attack, the Lions had another option up-front and the change almost paid dividends immediately.
In the 44th minute, Malone cut the ball back from the Huddersfield byline to Connor Mahoney on the edge the box. Unmarked and taking the chance early, Mahoney looked to have steered the ball into the bottom-right corner of the net, but the outstretched left hand of Hamer did enough the turn the ball around the post.
In stark contrast to the first half, the second started at a frantic pace and swayed end-to-end.
In the 47th minute, Ryan Leonard picked up a loose ball from Jed Wallace and fizzed a strike at goal, which was deflected into the gloves of Hamer from the edge of the box.
A minute later and the Terriers nearly extended their lead as Koroma found space on the edge of the Millwall box but his fierce shot could only find the warm embrace of Baiłkowski in the centre of the goal.
Millwall went straight back on the attack and the home contingent had their heads in their hands in the 55th minute. Jed Wallace found some space and tried his luck from distance with a determined strike, but the ball sailed inches wide of the top corner with Hamer beaten.
The visitors could not be deterred and came forth once more.
In the 59th minute, Mbenza created some space 18 yards out and opened his body up to curl the ball into Białkowski’s bottom left corner but the ball drifted agonisingly wide for the Terriers.
Just two minutes later and Huddersfield were again close to doubling their lead as Diakhaby put a low effort wide from 20 yards with Białkowski scrambling to his left.
Huddersfield continued to threaten and further efforts by Koroma and Mbenza forced saves by Białkowski, whilst substitute Pipa went close from distance but the Terriers were unable to extend their lead.
It took until the 90th minute for Huddersfield to finally put the game to bed.
Pipa again tried his luck from distance and stung Białkowski’s gloves with a strike from 20 yards but it was straight at the Millwall goalkeeper. Białkowski palmed the ball up as if to take the power out of it but in farcical circumstances only served to put it into his own net.
With the Millwall defence finally breached, the floodgates opened and O’Brien added a third in injury time to rub salt in the wounds of the Lions as the hosts experienced only their second defeat of the season.
Takeaways from the match
A game plan lost in translation
With Gary Rowett isolating at home, Alex Pearce, Shaun Williams and Kevin Nugent took charge of proceedings once more for the Lions.
Millwall started in a 5-4-1 formation with Mahlon Romeo and Murray Wallace working the flanks to stretch the Terriers’ midfield but the set-up only served to isolate Tom Bradshaw in attack as Jed Wallace and Mahoney struggled to get passed their counterparts.
The decision to switch formations enabled Millwall to provide more support to Bradshaw but it was never obvious what Millwall were trying to do with the ball. The substitution of Matt Smith at half-time gave the Lions a target man but after conceding in the 19th minute, Millwall were always chasing the game and try as they might, didn’t have the creativity or the control to mount a serious challenge on the Terriers’ goal.
Indecision costs Millwall
In a game of few chances for the home side, the inability for Millwall to turn defence into attack was glaringly obvious.
Throughout the game, Cooper, Shaun Hutchinson and Białkowski repelled Huddersfield attacks and got the ball quickly into Jed Wallace and Ryan Woods.
With Romeo and Murray Wallace getting beyond the Huddersfield defence, Millwall had opportunities to spring counter-attacks but consistently took an extra touch or turned their back to goal when the forward pass was the best option. In doing so, a disciplined Huddersfield side were able to get re-organised and form two strong banks of five in front of Hamer that a tepid Millwall were unable to breakdown.
Goals have been hard to come by for the Terriers this season but a dominant showing at the Den saw Huddersfield return north with three points and three goals to their name - their highest haul since beating Birmingham City away in July.
Josh Koroma was at the heart of the Terriers’ success today.
With five of his six shots on target, Koroma worked the space between Cooper and Hutchinson, praying on the loose balls and taking his chances early.
Koroma troubled the Millwall defence all afternoon and deserved the goal for his efforts as his hold up play and endless running enabled the likes of Mbenza, Pipa and O’Brien to get forward in support.
In contrast, Millwall could have played until tomorrow and still not scored. The Lions lacked bite and attacking intent, and if the hosts are to mount a serious promotion-push, they can’t afford too many more performances like this.