MILLWALL blew a two-goal lead at Rochdale before equalising late on as they missed the chance to climb back into League One’s top six.
Millwall were two goals up within 25 minutes through Lee Gregory’s eighth successful penalty this season and Aiden O’Brien’s finish.
Rochdale pulled a goal back in the 33rd minute when Nathaniel Mendez-Laing snapped a low shot past the returning Jordan Archer, before Ian Henderson tapped home an equaliser a minute before the break.
Nine minutes after half-time, Rochdale were in front. Callum Camps, who like Henderson scored at The Den earlier in the season, sent a low shot into Archer’s bottom right corner from the edge of the box as the game continued at a breathless pace.
And the chances kept coming. Archer made a superb save to deny Mendez-Laing before Millwall conjured their third goal with 12 minutes left, Jed Wallace ramming into the net from Gregory’s cross.
This was a riveting contest with no let-up, both sides set on attack whenever they had the ball. Millwall could have been four goals ahead before Rochdale mounted their comeback; Rochdale could have been 4-2 up before Millwall drew level.
The defeat to Spurs possibly has had a deflationary effect, or at least has broken that defensive solidity that led to nine consecutive clean sheets. A clean sheet for either side never looked on the cards here.
Spotland got a new surface three weeks ago, but had been pounded by four months’ worth of rain in the four days before this fixture.
It was an absolutely frenetic start, with perhaps the players feeling they may as well embrace chaos if that’s what the surface was going to give them.
Rochdale started in a 3-4-3 formation, and Mendez-Laing was immediately their chief threat in the early stages. He saw a shot blocked in the box in the second minute and then twisted and turned Tony Craig before fizzing a low drive wide of the far post.
Between those efforts O’Brien was crowded out before the ball would drop properly for him and Shaun Cummings diverted Calvin Andrew’s header out for a corner.
This was a game involving Millwall that in no way followed their recent pattern. Seven of their previous 11 fixtures contained no more than one goal. Yet here every time a team attacked they looked like scoring.
And after that glut of early chances Millwall finally did. Again, a pattern of the first half: a hint of controversy. In the 14th minute Jake Cooper headed the ball back across goal to Byron Webster from Shaun Williams’ free-kick. Webster fell backwards attempting to engineer a shot, referee Darren England saw a foul, and Gregory scored his 15th goal of the season.
Eleven minutes later only Jimmy McNulty will know why he tried a pass across his backpedalling defence. Gregory nipped in, passed to O’Brien and the attacker had his 13th goal of the campaign.
The bedlam continued. After Wallace saw a one-on-one saved, Webster initially was calm to chest a cross and clear. The ball arrived back in the box, though, and Mendez-Laing took a touch before giving Archer little chance.
In the 44th minute, two more moments of controversy. Millwall thought they had earned a throw-in on the right only for England to point the other way. Rochdale didn’t dally shifting the ball into the centre of the pitch before Cooper fouled Camps on the edge of the box. It looked soft, but Rochdale took the free-kick short to Mendez-Laing whose shot was parried by Archer to the feet of Henderson for an easy finish. In the technical area Lions boss Neil Harris had to be calmed by the fourth official.
The boos referee England was subjected to walking off at half-time indicated the home fans also weren’t happy with his performance.
Would the pandemonium cease in the second half? Not quite. Joe Bunney attempted to wriggle through a number of Millwall players before falling in the box but England wasn’t interested. Moments later the same player tumbled as he went for a cross but England, an unwitting central figure now, again waved play on.
Craig then went into the book for a foul on his nemesis Mendez-Laing – now on the left – to stop a counterattack. It didn’t matter. In the next move, after a Rochdale corner, Camps was given too much room on the edge of the box to shoot low past Archer.
It was now wave after wave of Rochdale attacks as Millwall looked overwhelmed. Mendez-Laing cut another swathe through the away defence, Archer produced a brilliant save and Andrews stabbed the ball wide. The offside flag meant it wouldn’t be counted as a sitter.
Harris brought on Mahlon Romeo for Cummings to try to stop the Rochdale tide. O’Brien came close to levelling when his shot from 25 yards had Dale goalkeeper Conrad Logan scrambling to save. From the corner there was more mayhem that summed up this game before Rochdale eventually cleared.
Wallace got his first goal after his return from Wolves in January, cleverly following up the play to finish just when it appeared Gregory’s centre would elude everybody.
Millwall poured forward and forced a number of late corners, and then Gregory raced through one-on-one, but Logan saved with his legs.
There was one final chance in an exhilarating game as Rochdale countered, but the linesman’s flag went up to deny Henderson.
Image: Millwall FC