MILLWALL’S search for an away win this season will extend into December but they were hard-done-by to go down to a defeat at Fulham.
The Lions twice struck the woodwork, once in the first half through Tom Elliott’s header and then late on when George Saville’s shot hit the post.
There was also an element of controversy yet again on the road this season as Fulham were awarded a penalty in first-half added time when striker Rui Fonte went down in the area under a challenge from Conor McLaughlin. Oliver Norwood scored from the spot to give his side just a second league win at home this season.
Millwall ended the game with three out-and-out strikers on the pitch, and though Fulham were ragged with their defending late on, the visitors couldn’t find the equalising goal.
Lions boss Neil Harris left out Lee Gregory, with Elliott and Steve Morison starting up front together for the first time this season.
Fulham had showcased their attacking potential but also revealed their defensive vulnerability in their 5-4 win over Sheffield United on Tuesday, and it was obvious that with a twin-targetman set-up Millwall would get the ball forward directly and quickly.
The Lions didn’t have a whole lot of possession before the break but still looked like they could hurt a Fulham defence over which they had a distinct height advantage.
The frustration was that the delivery from wide areas was sub-standard and twice Shane Ferguson over-hit free-kicks when Elliott was towering over his marker Norwood at the back post. Fred Onyedinma was also guilty of two wild crosses from the right. Millwall needed to make more of those rare crossing opportunities.
Fulham were predictably composed in possession but Millwall would have been relatively happy right up until first-half injury-time that most of the play was in front of them.
It was requiring something precise to pick open the away defence and Tom Cairney provided it, producing a sumptuous pass to find Neeskens Kebano but McLaughlin timed his tackle to perfection to make a last-ditch block.
Fulham’s main threat was coming down the left through Kebano and Ryan Sessegnon, who though he was playing left-back was in an advanced position when his side had the ball.
It was Millwall who had created the first proper goal threat and it was through that height advantage it was possible, Elliott beating Tomas Kalas at the back post to head McLaughlin’s cross against the woodwork.
Jordan Archer kept the sides level in the 17th minute when he tipped Sheyi Ojo’s shot away for a corner before Millwall won possession high up the pitch but Ferguson flashed a low drive wide of the far post.
Having defended so diligently and with so much discipline, and given how much dominance they should have had over their opponents from dead balls at both ends, it ran against the pattern of the game that Fulham’s breakthrough should come from a set-piece lapse. It did seem a harsh decision when the referee pointed to the spot after McLaughlin and Fonte tangled in the area. Archer had sprung from his line to block Kebano’s shot for that corner, but could do little when Norwood precisely fired his spot-kick home after McLaughlin had been booked.
Millwall more aggressively pressed higher up the pitch in the first 10 minutes of the second half, Morison at one point angrily closing down Denis Odoi to win a corner. Ferguson’s delivery was better now and from his free-kick on the left the ball broke to Onyedinma but goalkeeper David Button smothered the shot.
Millwall were almost caught out when Sessegnon headed on to Ojo six yards out straight in front of goal, but he couldn’t make a clean connection when he should really have made it two.
Slavisa Jokanovic had changed his attack at half-time, bringing on Aboubakar Kamara for midfielder Stefan Johansen and switching to 4-4-2, before the introduction of Adetayo Edun meant the home side reverted to 4-3-3.
That was a tricky balancing act for Millwall as they chased the game while having to be wary of leaving space for a front three with lots of pace to run into.
Millwall had faded after their energetic start to the second half, and needed to add freshness to their attack. With 15 minutes left Harris sent on Gregory and Aiden O’Brien for Ferguson and Onyedinma, and moments later Morison wasn’t far away from finding the far post with a snap-shot from an angle.
They went much closer in the 78th minute when Saville struck an effort from 20 yards that had Button beaten but the ball again rebounded to safety.
With four minutes left substitute Marcelo Djalo fouled Elliott on the edge of the box, but Saville drifted the free-kick over the bar.
Image: Millwall FC