MILLWALL fell to their first defeat of 2016 as goals from Sam Winnall and Adam Hammill gave Barnsley a 2-1 win at Oakwell.
It meant the Tykes completed a league double over the Lions, who came close to an equaliser in added time when Steve Morison’s header came back off the crossbar and the ball was desperately scrambled clear.
Winnall put the Tykes ahead when he was given too much room in the box to head winger Hammill’s centre past David Forde.
Forde pulled off a number of impressive saves to prevent Lee Johnson’s side from doubling their lead before Morison made it 1-1 in the 61st minute when he finished from close range.
Barnsley went in front again just six minutes later when Winnall set up Hammill and he fired low into the bottom corner to give his side the three points.
Barnsley grab the initiative
Such has been the unpredictable nature of Millwall’s season it was impossible to tell how this game would unfold. The rain swept across the pitch and it was Barnsley who started much more brightly.
They just looked more alert and more ready to react to balls breaking in midfield.
It was notable how quickly they picked up any loose passes in the centre of the pitch and that meant Winnall, Hammill and Marley Watkins, in particular, had opportunities to run at Millwall’s back four. The slippery surface made things even more unpredictable and one Byron Webster mistake was almost costly in the first half only for Mark Beevers to bail him out.
For all the sloppiness in possession it was actually after Millwall had switched off for a corner that Barnsley took the lead. Neil Harris wasn’t happy with his players after Barnsley’s 3-2 win at The Den in August, feeling they didn’t take responsibility at set-pieces. And he would have been just as unhappy in the 12th minute as Hammill had time to look up and swing a cross towards Winnall that the striker flicked past Forde.
Millwall did work their way back into the game as the half wore on. Morison was getting the better of centre-backs Kevin Long and Alfie Mawson, but Fred Onyedinam and Aiden O’Brien weren’t quite reading the direction of his flicks.
Half-time axe falls
Ed Upson and Onyedinma had been culpable in the opening 45 minutes, giving the ball away to allow Barnsley to launch swift counters. Forde had to be alert, and really precise, when he flung himself at the feet of Lloyd Isgrove at one point in the opening half.
Both wide players were victims of the half-time cull as Shane Ferguson and Lee Gregory came on.
But it was Millwall’s two veterans who were the main reasons their side levelled against the run of play. Forde had produced another couple of excellent stops to deny Winnall and then Hammill before a throw from the right was worked to Joe Martin. His shot cannoned back off the post and Morison was first to react to prod the ball to the net for a goal his efforts deserved. Morison had already seen one header cleared off the line, and he would suffer the same fate later.
But if Millwall were fortunate enough to be level it was like looking a gift horse in the mouth, given the nature of Barnsley’s second goal. Both the lead-up and the finish had been rehearsed in the first half, Millwall losing the ball in midfield and Hammill taking advantage to slalom into the box and shoot low past Forde.
Still, the Lions could easily have found a second equaliser when first Beevers and then Morison saw successive headers cleared off the line after Shaun Williams’ had delivered a corner.
Lions can’t get to grips with trio
Winnall and Hammill grabbed the goalscoring headlines, but just as important was Watkins’ work rate off the ball. He kept Millwall’s back four guessing as he constantly sought to run in behind them, particularly in the moments just after Barnsley had won back possession through Ben Pearson or Conor Hourihane – or Millwall's carelessness.
It meant the defence had to think about runners in front of them as well as Watkins’ movement.
But it could just as easily have ended in a draw. And it was Morison again whose header struck the bar before Gregory’s follow-up was cleared off the line.
This felt like a big opportunity lost for Millwall, who will have a week to pore over the performance before the visit to Oldham next Saturday.