A moment of magic on the stroke of half-time was not enough for Millwall as they were held to their fourth consecutive draw against a stale and often toothless Reading side, overly reliant on the brilliance of Lucas Joao.
Story of the match
Under the lights of The Den, Millwall and Reading came into the game with contrasting records so far this season.
After four consecutive defeats, the Royals arrived in south London looking to start kick-start their season again, having dropped from first to sixth in recent weeks.
Manager Veljko Paunović made two changes from the side that was dismantled 4-2 away to AFC Bournemouth only four days ago. Yakou Meite and Tom Holmes came in to a 4-2-3-, with Tomas Esteves and Sone Aluko moving to the bench.
Whilst Millwall had lost only one in their previous eight games, they have had their own problems in front of goal, scoring just once in over 360 minutes of football.
Gary Rowett made two changes to the starting line-up that drew at home to Cardiff City at the weekend, with Tottenham Hotspur loanee Troy Parrott making his first start for the Lions, coming in for the injured Mason Bennett. Matt Smith was also replaced by Scott Malone as Millwall looked to move within just one point of their visitors with a win tonight.
The opening exchanges went with form.
Millwall started the brighter of the two sides and nearly went ahead in comical fashion in the sixth minute as a Jed Wallace cross was cleared by Holmes straight into an unsuspecting Michael Morrison. Fortunately for the visitors, the ball rebounded over the bar and out for a corner.
In the 11th minute, the visitors had their first sight of goal as Meite was brought down by Jake Cooper for a free-kick thirty yards out from goal. Ovie Ejaria swung in a dangerous cross but Holmes was unable to keep his header down from six yards.
Millwall responded in-kind but failed to threaten the scoreline as a header from Cooper, followed by a 30-yard effort from Shaun Williams caused little trouble for Rafael Cabral in the Reading goal.
In the 23 minute, Reading had their first effort on target as Meite tried his lucky with a volley from 25 yards but Bartosz Białkowski collected the ball comfortably down to his right.
For the remainder of the first half there was little else to report. Rowett demanded his side to play more forward passes - an indicator of the host’s attacking threat - and both sides showed endeavour but cancelled each other out in midfield as they were unable to get out of the middle third.
That was until added time.
After a half of endeavour and dropping deep to support his side, Parrott had a rare touch of the ball on the edge of the box and promptly drew a free-kick. From 25 yards, Wallace made no mistake for his fourth goal of the season, swinging the ball passed a helpless Rafael Cabral into his top-right corner.
A rare moment of brilliance to savour at half-time.
The goal brought the game to life in the second half and the visitors came racing out of the traps.
Reading played a higher line and had a sense of urgency in their passing.
Five minutes after the break, Ejaria had the first chance of the half, trying his luck from the edge of the box but Białkowski was equal to the effort, getting down low to his left to smother the ball.
Three minutes later and the Royals were level.
A through-ball by substitute Michael Olise split the Millwall defence, with Joao latching on the end of it. Ten yards out with only Białkowski to beat, Joao nutmegged the Millwall goalkeeper for his 11th of the season to level the scores.
Three minutes later and Millwall nearly regained the lead as Cooper leapt highest from a Wallace corner. Unmarked and eight yards out, Cooper was annoyed not to do better as his header was straight at Cabral.
Millwall went close again in the 69th minute.
Quick passing between Williams and Wallace set up substitute Jon Dadi Bodvarsson in the box. Opening his body up to take the shot, Bodvarsson looked to have curled the ball into the top left corner but Cabral did well to tip the ball over the bar.
Rowett was again left wondering how his side weren’t ahead in the 80th minute.
A deep cross by Wallace was headed back across goal by substitute Smith. Five yards out and with the goal at his mercy, Ryan Leonard managed to head the ball over the bar.
As the fourth official displayed five minutes of added time, history nearly repeated itself as JedWallace went agonisingly closed to scoring again.
Bodvarsson slid the ball into the path of an onrushing Wallace eight yards out. On the stretch, the Millwall midfielder made a strong connection but struck his effort straight at a much-relieved Cabral.
It was, however, Reading who nearly had the last laugh as Joao was inches from stealing the three points as he saw his effort slid just wide of the post from 12 yards, with Białkowski beaten.
It was to be the final action of the game as Millwall recorded their fourth consecutive draw to rise to tenth, whilst Reading picked up their first point in five games.
Takeaways from the match
A clinical edge away from the play-offs
Having scored just 11 goals in 12 games coming into tonight - only one more than Joao - and having manufactured 13 shots, with seven on target, for only one goal in 90 minutes, Millwall’s problems in front of goal are no secret.
Wallace is top scorer with four goals, but no other player, including his attacking counterparts, has scored more than one. Fortunately for the Lions, they do have Wallace, but if they hope to pose a real assault on the play-offs they will have to find more goals from somewhere.
London’s calling for Troy Parrott
At just 18 years of age, there will be plenty observers of Parrott calling for caution. After all, the young Irishman has made only one Premier League appearance for his parent club Tottenham and was making just his first start for the Lions this evening.
However, Parrott is already a full Irish International and in 2019/20 was top scorer in the Under-19 UEFA Youth League having bagged four in one game at home to Crvena Zvezda in a club record 9-2 victory. Again tonight, Parrott showed he is no ordinary teenager.
Parrott stated his intent in the second minute with an early nutmeg and in the 16th minute - not for the last time - Parrott dropped to a congested halfway line to support Millwall in defence. He was like a Terrier as he hounded Andy Rinomhota and seemed to know where the Reading midfielder was going to move the ball before Rinomhota did, swiftly dispossessing him.
Parrott was tenacious, energetic and determined throughout his 63 minutes and showed an eagerness to drop deep and support his side.
Parrott demonstrated intelligence, quick feet and mastery of his craft in getting fouled for the opening goal, and on tonight’s performance Millwall and Tottenham fans have a lot to look forward to.
For much of the first-half, the game was lacking a spark. Eventually it came in the form of Wallace.
The Millwall midfielder is clinical from set-pieces, with a record of four goals and an assist already this season after 10 goals and 14 assists across last season, and came up with another moment of magic this evening.
It looked like Wallace might have stolen it at the death but it wasn’t to be for Millwall who had to settle for their seventh draw of the Sky Bet Championship season.
In the post-match conference, Rowett expressed frustration at his sides inability to win the game:
"We had a five minute spell where we just looked a little bit nervy, maybe that's because we haven't won as many games as we'd like... and in that one moment we don't defend well.
"After that, we created good chances... we probably had four or five headers and eight shots on target, so I was really pleased with the performance (but) disappointed we haven't won."
Rather than wallow, Rowett struck an upbeat tone about the prospect of fans returning to The Den:
"It'll be absolutely amazing to get fans back and I think for our home games it probably comes at a great time for us."
Indeed it could, with three home games in four over Christmas and New Year, Millwall fans have a lot to look forward to and may just be the clinical edge that the Lions are looking for.