FOR the second week in a row Millwall didn’t get what they deserved after they dominated against Bolton Wanderers before letting a lead slip but at least earning their first point of the campaign.
George Saville – who was superb throughout – gave a vibrant Millwall side the lead in the 49th minute, but Bolton equalised with their first shot on target when substitute Filipe Morais curled home a free-kick 13 minutes later.
Lee Gregory was in the Millwall line-up after he was taken off against Stevenage on Tuesday, but Jake Cooper hadn’t sufficiently recovered from rolling his ankle in that game and was on the bench.
This was a good measure of the level Millwall are at compared to last season when Bolton twice comfortably beat them in the league. The Lions are clearly now a far better side, and on the balance of play and the way they dictated the game they should have claimed their first three points of the season.
Given the way the games between these sides went last season – and, indeed, between Millwall and Bradford when Phil Parkinson was Bantams manager, that play-off game at Valley Parade an exception – there was a fair chance there would be little in it at The Den on Saturday.
Bolton are rigid in the way they set up. While it makes them difficult to break down, it also means they are pretty predictable when they have the ball.
In possession, wing-backs Mark Little and Andrew Taylor pushed up to the attacking line, with Jem Karacan and Darren Pratley – playing just in front of Josh Cullen – expected to create from midfield. Without the ball those two Bolton midfielders shadowed Shaun Williams and Saville, while the three centre-backs ensured that even when Steve Morison won a flick-on or the ball broke, there was usually a defender there to cover.
Bolton’s attacking shape meant there were opportunities, though rare, for Jed Wallace and Shane Ferguson to attack the space out wide. Millwall’s best chance of the first half fell to Wallace, after he had made a run for Conor McLaughlin and then cut inside and into the box, but his final touch let him down and his shot was blocked.
Earlier, Millwall’s wingers should have combined, but Wallace, 10 yards out, just failed to connect with Ferguson’s cross.
Wallace and Morison also tested Mark Howard from distance, but they were straightforward saves for the Bolton goalkeeper.
Millwall’s tenacity in winning the ball back was notable before the break, meaning Bolton barely threatened in an attacking sense. But too often the Lions failed to then quickly transfer the ball forward when Bolton’s defence was out of shape.
In the 34th minute Gregory, back deep in his own half, won possession and darted up the pitch. He had Wallace breaking to his left, but turned back, allowing Bolton to regroup, before finding the supporting McLaughlin. His cross eventually landed at Ferguson’s feet on the left edge of the box, but, not for the first time, his delivery was too close to Howard.
Howard was eventually beaten and if ever a player deserved a goal it was Saville. It was he who drove at the heart of the Bolton defence again just after the break. The move stalled but Millwall retained the ball, and Morison scooped a pass towards Gregory who brilliantly flicked it inside to Saville. The midfielder still had a bit to do but shifted the ball onto his weaker right foot before shooting past a wrong-footed Howard.
That stirred Bolton and Adam le Fondre headed wide, before Morison almost made it 2-0 in the 60th minute. Saville was again involved as his attempted shot was flicked on instinctively by Morison over Howard, but Mark Beevers was there to clear the ball off the line.
All of that good Millwall work was then undone when Shaun Hutchinson gave away a free-kick outside the box, and Morais curled home superbly past Jordan Archer.
Millwall seemed to recover from that shock well and could have gone in front again in the 67th minute, Gregory turning sharply after Williams had caught out a dozing away defence from a free-kick, but Howard got down quickly to palm the striker’s shot around the post. The home side’s frustration at being level was evident, though, when Hutchinson was booked for protesting a free-kick being awarded to an under-pressure visiting side.
With four minutes left Morison had a chance to put his side ahead again, and his volley was on target but his former team-mate Beevers made the block. Then, in injury-time, Williams shot from distance but Howard saved.
This was another hugely encouraging display, but, as at Nottingham Forest, the reward didn't match the endeavour.
Image: Millwall FC