MILLWALL lost for the first time in 17 league games as Swindon’s Conor Thomas brought his side’s four-game losing streak to an end with an injury-time winner at The County Ground.
Thomas pounced to prod the ball past Jordan Archer after Nicky Ajose’s shot had been blocked. Millwall’s chances of automatic promotion were already remote, and now there must be doubt as to whether they can claim a top-six place given this was the fourth game in seven in which they have dropped points.
This was another game the Lions had to win, but, in truth, they never looked like they would.
More worryingly, Steve Morison left the pitch in the second half. He had been quiet, as he was at Rochdale, and jogged off as he was substituted, but it’s doubtful it was for tactical reasons with Millwall desperately needing a goal.
Millwall were seventh before kick-off, behind Southend on goal difference, and though they hadn’t lost in 16 league games, four draws in six had seen them drop out of the top six.
Swindon, meanwhile, were in deep relegation trouble, needing a win to cut the gap to Shrewsbury in 20th to four points. Referencing their predicament, Robins manager Luke Williams, writing in the match programme, promised his side had no choice but to “attack from the very first whistle”.
They were certainly set up to do that, though the kindest thing that could be said after an abysmal first half of football was it didn’t quite work out that way.
Swindon had two deep midfielders in Rohan Ince and Charlie Colkett, with the four attackers in front of them fluidly switching positions. The irony, though, was that when they had the ball there was little movement up front, and that meant there was a sense of restlessness in the crowd.
The quality from both sides was low. The wind didn’t help, but the number of mis-placed passes and mis-controlled balls was difficult to excuse. There was lots of play between both boxes, but not the quality past those points.
Swindon’s first half was summed up when Colkett, after slow, laborious build-up work, swept a cross-field pass straight out of play; Millwall’s when Shaun Williams swung a corner to the back post that went wide without a touch.
Lee Gregory had the first chance, but his low shot in the fifth minute from a tight angle was easy for goalkeeper Lawrence Vigouroux. Gregory was lucky to escape further punishment when after he had been booked for stopping a counterattack he appeared to catch Dion Conroy late.
Between those incidents Archer had to dive high to his left to keep out Johnny Goddard’s shot before Jon Obika went down in the box under a Jake Cooper tackle. Again, it appeared Millwall were fortunate that the referee didn’t see it as a foul.
At the other end Millwall couldn’t conjure a final decisive pass. Morison appears to be finally feeling the strain. He played 57 times last season, and has suffered two injuries that have kept him out in this campaign. He was unusually subdued before the break and couldn’t impose himself on Swindon’s defence, with Conroy particularly impressive for the home side. In the 71st minute Morison was withdrawn, with Shane Ferguson coming on, and it seems likely Millwall’s vice-captain is carrying some kind of injury.
On one of the few occasions Millwall looked fluent in attack, Conroy crunched into Jed Wallace to win the ball and carry it up the pitch.
Just before the break, Archer got down low to palm away Colkett’s drive.
Five minutes into the second half, full-back Nathan Thompson had decided he had seen enough of the wasteful play in front of him. His shot from 35 yards out was on target, but relatively comfortably gathered by Archer.
Lions boss Neil Harris had also seen enough and he sent on Fred Onyedinma for Aiden O’Brien in the 56th minute. But two minutes later it was Swindon who had an opportunity to go in front, Obika’s shot coming off Byron Webster and almost dropping for Ajose. Archer was off his line to paw the ball away.
Ferguson’s introduction meant Onyedinma shifted up front, but Millwall’s attack still wasn’t functioning and it was Swindon who were the more proactive. They were forcing Millwall back and forcing crosses and corners, doing to Millwall exactly what Millwall are usually so good at. From one corner, with nine minutes left, the ball dropped to centre-back Raphael Rossi-Branco, but he couldn’t hook his shot on target.
In the 84th minute Obika powered into the box and saw his first shot blocked before Williams slid superbly in to prevent the attacker profiting from the loose ball.
Moments later Ferguson found some rare space, but Onyedinma couldn’t connect properly with the winger’s low centre.
With a minute left Robins substitute Bradley Barry was played into the inside-right channel by Ajose. He could have shot or crossed and elected for the latter, but he got it all wrong, over-hitting the ball with two players waiting in the middle of the box.
But – just like in last season's corresponding fixture – they got one last chance, and Thomas took it to give his side hope they can avoid the drop.
Image: Millwall FC