Sheffield Wednesday moved off the bottom of the Championship table despite being held to a goalless draw at home to Millwall.
The visitors have the most clean sheets in England’s top four tiers in 2020 and frustrated the Owls to record their 16th of the calendar year, but they also failed to register a shot on target.
After a dire first half from both teams, Wednesday had chances after the break but found goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski in no mood to be beaten with a string of stops.
Story of the match
Neither side created much in an abject first half, with the home side dominating possession but lacking the creativity to do anything with it. Their best chances came when Millwall made mistakes at the back, as early on when Murray Wallace was robbed of the ball only for Elias Kachunga to stroke wide.
The Lions’ attacking approach was a direct one, and their best chance of the opening period came when Matt Smith won the ball and found Mason Bennett, who scuffed his cross into the ground but still presented a great opportunity for Scott Malone to head in, yet it went wide from in front of goal.
Ryan Leonard also blasted wide but their threat was only fleeting. Luckily for them, Wednesday were poor on the ball even by their own standards this season, which was summed up when Julian Borner managed to run into Barry Bannan bringing it forward, comedically knocking both men off their feet and gifting possession to the opposition.
Another poor Millwall play at the back saw Shaun Hutchinson present Josh Windass with a chance, which at least forced a goalkeeper into a save as Bialkowski pushed the shot wide. The Pole had to do the same at the start of the second half but rather than a rare chance, it proved the start of a far more exciting game.
That’s because Wednesday came out unrecognisable from the team which laboured through the first half. Now they were full of vigour and seizing on openings at every turn.
Poor Bialkowski distribution meant he had to make amends with a fine stop to deny Adam Reach’s venomous strike, and he then stopped Joey Pelupessy too after a good move with Kachunga’s rebound effort blocked. A third stop of the half was needed moments after as well, keeping out Reach again from a tight angle after more careless play from his team-mates.
But after a flurry of chances, Wednesday struggled to hit those heights again as Millwall regained a defensive grip. That didn’t look like translating into an attacking threat though, with Smith getting the best chance but planting a bullet header badly wide when free in the middle of the box.
The Owls did the late pushing but Bialkowski reserved his best save for last, showing great reactions and reach to keep Jack Marriott effort out of the bottom corner in added time.
Goals still the problem
There are usually two reasons why a team might not be scoring goals; either goalscoring chances are not being created, or they are not being taken.
For Sheffield Wednesday, the first half was a perfect demonstration of the former. With Millwall happy to sit deep from the off, Garry Monk’s side were allowed to have most of the ball and challenged to do their worst with it. So ran surely one of the most frustrating halves of the season for any Owls fans, as they failed to make almost any passes stick once entering the final third, with Bannan struggling to provide his quality and balls into the box coming to nil.
The second half was a perfect demonstration of the latter. As their opponents started to make more mistakes and leave more gaps, Wednesday had a brilliant spell from the restart until around the hour mark, finding space in behind and putting threatening balls into the box. But none of Windass, Reach or Pelupessy could beat the goalkeeper, and nor could Marriott with one final, glorious chance at the end.
Monk was right to say after the game that at least one of their chances should have been scored. But after scoring just six in 11 matches, that has been the case on too many occasions to be put down to bad luck, good goalkeeping or simply having an off day. In both chance creation and finishing, Wednesday are not good enough.
Solid but not spectacular
Millwall kept up their miserly reputation with another clean sheet in South Yorkshire, although they did need Bialkowski to make some very good stops to ensure it.
With an organised backline that has largely remained the same all season, except for switches of formation, there was nothing particularly surprising about their defensive display. What did disappoint, considering their fine record on the road this season and the fact that the play-offs were within reach with a victory, was how little threat they posed going the other way.
Millwall have a particular style, of course, and with Smith up front and two forward runners in Bennett and Jed Wallace in behind, it was there in plain sight. But the inability of the front men to win and build possession, coupled with the lack of enthusiasm from the midfielders and full-backs to make runs forward and give them more bodies and options in attack, saw them struggle to mount any pressure.
They did in fact have some of the best chances, when their direct style brought an opening, but they seemed to be relying on a slice of luck or a defensive mistake to get them through and it didn’t come. You might be forgiven for thinking they came happy for a point and, although that was surely not the intention, the effect of their set-up meant that was exactly what they got.
Man of the match: Shaun Hutchinson (Millwall)
Not the cleanest on the ball but the Millwall skipper was a defensive colossus, putting his body on the line to head and block everything that the home side dared to throw into his penalty box.