MILLWALL missed numerous chances and controversially saw a goal ruled out as they undeservedly lost their opening game of the Championship season at The City Ground on Friday night.
Steve Morison thought he had equalised late on after Forest had gone ahead in the first half, only for his strike to be chalked off.
Morison had hit the crossbar in the 13th minute and Aiden O’Brien and Lee Gregory could have put Millwall ahead, before it was Forest who took the lead against the run of play in the 41st minute through Barrie McKay’s long-range shot.
Just before half-time Jed Wallace shot just wide of the near post from a free-kick and the Lions went in at the break wondering how they hadn’t taken at least one of their opportunites.
Six minutes into the second half, Millwall blew arguably their best chance up to that point. It was a mistake from Jordan Smith, Morison took advantage and set up Gregory for what seemed would be a simple finish from 10 yards, but, unbelievably, the striker blazed over.
Wallace was next to miss, through on goal in the inside-left channel, he tried to place his shot under Smith but the goalkeeper came off his line to make a brilliant save.
Millwall had won on the opening day three seasons in a row, but this was certainly set to be a more daunting challenge than any of them. The way they tore through Forest’s defence in the opening 45 minutes, though, and the way they were so threatening in the moments after winning the ball back, suggested they would make it a fourth opening-day win in succession.
Forest had survived relegation to League One only on goal difference in May, in contrast to the euphoric climax to Millwall’s season. But the team Neil Harris picked for the first game of his first full season as a manager in the Championship showed that sentiment had played no part in his selections decisions.
Shaun Hutchinson was the only starter from the back four at Wembley to keep his place, and while it was no surprise to see Conor McLaughlin and James Meredith given full debuts, perhaps Byron Webster could feel hard done by to see Jake Cooper given the nod ahead of him.
Millwall hardly put a foot wrong before half-time, yet found themselves behind at the break. Harsh though it was, it just emphasised the difference in quality that exists in the Championship compared to League One. Forest had created so little until four minutes before half-time, and there didn’t seem to be much on when McKay picked up the ball 30 yards out. But he saw his chance, and drove a wicked shot off Jordan Archer’s right-hand post and in.
Millwall had created seven scoring opportunities inside 23 minutes to none for Forest. Morison went closest but slapped the crossbar with a volley from six yards. Earlier Saville shot just wide of the near post, O’Brien had three headed chances, and Gregory forced Forest goalkeeper Smith into two low saves.
There was real unease in the home crowd, but then a burst of relief as McKay’s rasping shot went in off the woodwork.
Millwall still had one more chance before half-time. Gregory, who had done everything right but score, again cleverly won a free-kick 25 yards out. From the same place he scored against Granada, Wallace shot to the same corner, but this time just the wrong side of the post.
Forest began the second half brightly, and Meredith did well to block Ben Brereton’s shot, before Gregory somehow missed the best part of an open goal.
Wallace will probably feel he should have scored in the 64th minute, even if it was on his weaker foot, but Smith deserves credit for the way he narrowed the angles for the Millwall winger.
Harris brought on Fred Onyedinma for O’Brien with just over 20 minutes left and then it was effectively a front four.
That inevitably left space for Forest to exploit, and they almost did when Zach Clough shot and Hutchinson made a last-ditch block.
Then came the controversy when Morison scored at the back post from Wallace’s corner. The striker wheeled away to celebrate in front of the Millwall fans tucked into a corner of The City Ground, but the referee had seen something to indicate a free-kick to Forest.
Clough had the ball in the net with eight minutes left, but the offside flag was up.
Tom Elliott came on for his competitive debut as Harris switched to 4-3-3, with another substitute, Shane Ferguson, and Wallace supporting a front three that now included Onyedinma. Wallace tried to chip Smith with five minutes to go but the Forest stopper was well positioned to make a straightforward catch.
There was one more late, late chance, yet it seemed inevitable that Onyedinma's header from three yards would scrape the outside of the Forest post.
Image: Millwall FC