MILLWALL missed a host of chances against ten-man Wigan at The Den as Jussi Jaaskelainen produced a magnificent performance to help his side gain a point.
The goalkeeper was unbeatable, but the home side will look back on a number of gilt-edged chances and wonder how they didn’t take the three points.
Jaaskelainen made a splendid save in the eighth minute when he tipped Jed Wallace’s shot that was destined for the top corner over the bar.
Wigan midfielder Sam Morsy was dismissed for a second bookable offence in the 34th minute.
At the end of the opening half referee Lee Collins made himself unpopular with the home fans when he failed to award a penalty after Lee Gregory went down in the box.
Millwall started the second half brightly and Steve Morison was close to making a better connection with Wallace’s cross but Wigan survived.
In the 66th minute Millwall somehow contrived to miss a trio of glorious chances within a few seconds to go ahead. First Jaaskelainen saved Gregory’s shot and when the ball broke to Morison it seemed like he would put his side a goal up only for the keeper to block again. Wallace picked up the loose ball but fired over.
Five minutes later Jaaskelainen produced a world-class save after Wallace had laid the ball off to Jimmy Abdou in the box.
Millwall kept up the pressure, and Joe Martin almost grabbed a crucial goal but instead his header from Shane Ferguson’s cross went inches wide.
The stars aligned to make this a crucial juncture in the season. Neil Harris said in his programme notes there has been no “must-win” game yet, but in terms of the chances of a top-two finish the stakes are certainly getting higher. Wigan could have opened up a decisive lead over Millwall with a victory, so maybe in that knowledge, and despite the eventual circumstances of this game, Harris will be satisfied with a point.
If this game could have been pivotal in terms of automatic promotion, it certainly seemed a turning point had arrived when Morsy was sent off in the first half.
Instead, Jaaskelainen was the decisive participant, standing as an unbreakable last line of defence in Gary Caldwell’s team. His save to deny Abdou was stunning, when he flung his 40-year-old frame to his right to touch the midfielder’s shot away.
But Millwall will have to take a measure of blame themselves. Morison and Wallace were particularly culpable when presented with the chances to beat Jaaskelainen who was off his line after denying Gregory.
Wigan are arguably the form side in the league, and they showed their resilience to dig in to claim the point.
Wigan down to ten men; Millwall denied a penalty
It didn’t take long for the nature of the tactical battle to become obvious. Wigan wanted to play the ball out from the back from Jaaskelainen through their defence but Millwall were wise to it, with Abdou and Ben Thompson pushing up to join Gregory and Morison in closing down space and forcing the goalkeeper to clear it long. That required discipline and a high work rate and Jaaskelainen took a couple of unnecessary risks in a tight and tense first half but Millwall just couldn’t punish him.
Millwall disrupted their opponents well, though, and funnelled players back to the edge of the box quickly to thwart the away side. Ryan Colclough and Conor McAleny tried a couple of long-range shots but dragged them well wide.
A feature of the early stages was Gregory’s closing down, and Morsy’s red card was a direct consequence of that. The midfielder, who scored against Millwall for Chesterfield before joining Wigan in January, had already been booked for a foul on Wallace. And just six minutes later he evidently panicked after being closed down and then dispossessed by Gregory before pulling back the striker. It was a rash decision with Gregory a distance from goal and near the right touchline.
That red card was perhaps in referee Collins’ mind right at the end of the first half when he denied Gregory what appeared to be a penalty after Millwall’s top scorer was felled in the box as he was about to shoot.
Wigan started the second half looking undaunted at being down to ten men, but eventually began to wilt in the face of wave after wave of attack. And they had Jaaskelainen to thank for earning them a point.
At the other end, Jordan Archer was virtually a spectator.
Millwall will have mixed memories of their last meeting with Blackpool, a 1-1 draw at Bloomfield Road in October. It was the third game of an eventual nine-game unbeaten sequence that ignited promotion ambitions.
But it could have been much more had a late red card for Carlos Edwards and Jack Redshaw’s subsequent conversion of the penalty that resulted not spoilt it.
Although they only got a point against Wigan, Millwall will take a lot from a relentless attacking performance – albeit against ten men for an hour and without being able to apply the decisive finishing.