MATT Smith scored his first goal for Millwall as Neil Harris’ side battled back to claim a deservd draw against West Brom at The Hawthorns.
Smith came off the bench and scored 15 minutes from time after Kyle Bartley had given West Brom the lead.
Filip Krovinovic had the ball in the net in the seventh minute from Kenneth Zohore’s lay-off but the offside flag had gone up.
Ben Thompson headed just wide and Ryan Leonard dragged a low shot well off-target before West Brom seemed certain to go ahead when Matt Phillips robbed Jake Cooper of possession and crossed to Zohore, but Bart Bialkowski got across to save on his line.
Bialkowski kept it goal-less four minutes into the second half when he got down low to save Nathan Ferguson’s volley following three quick corners for the hosts.
The Baggies took the lead four minutes after Shane Ferguson came on for the injured Mahlon Romeo. In the 57th minute Bartley rose above Alex Pearce to head in Phillips’ free-kick.
Harris made attacking substitutions, sending on Smith and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson. And Smith was quickest to react after a scramble in the box to fire into the roof of the net.
There was late danger when Kyle Edwards’ shot flicked off Hal Robson-Kanu, but Bilakowski was well-positioned to save.
Smith gets off the mark
Smith was an immediate handful when he came on, even barking at Ferguson to tell him where he should have put one free-kick.
He showed quick reactions to get to the ball first for his goal, when there was the distraction a moment before when Cooper thought he had been fouled and wanted a penalty.
Smith nudged a cross back to Thompson for a shot that went wide as West Brom’s centre-backs Bartley and Semi Ajayi struggled to deal with him.
He gave Millwall such a good platform, certainly one that Thompson looked to play off and the midfielder shot just wide again with six minutes left.
The Lions will have more threats off the bench this season, and this was an impressive demonstration of that.
Right-back problem for Lions
The second game of the season and a second player departing early with an injury. This time it was in the one position where the Lions could really have done without it: full-back.
Romeo went off eight minutes into the second half meaning Ferguson came on at right-back, a position he’s never featured in before for Millwall.
Jason McCarthy was at The Hawthorns but not in the match-day squad. The plan was for him to play in the EFL Cup game here next Tuesday but is that now a risk if Romeo is out for an extended period? Millwall’s other back-up is Leonard, who finished this game in the position and did well.
This time last year the transfer window stayed open until the end of August, which was a pain for Millwall as George Saville left for Middlesbrough on the last day. If it was still open you’d think the Lions would potentially look for a right-back.
They can still sign free agents, but that is obviously far from ideal. It will be an anxious wait to see what the problem is with Romeo.
Striker starts for first time since last September
Tom Bradshaw’s last competitive start was here last September 28 when Millwall lost 2-0.
Harris said last week he wouldn’t be as rigid in picking his starting XI this season, and there were three changes, with Bradshaw and Thompson forming a new attack despite the promise of Smith and Aiden O’Brien last weekend.
Bialkowski made his first start with Frank Fielding out, meaning back-up goalkeeper Luke Steele was straight into the match-day squad. Leonard was also recalled.
Bradshaw saw little of the ball in the first half, with West Brom dominating possession. He had to try and make his own luck, chasing a cause that looked lost before he robbed Ajayi of the ball on the end-line and was fouled.
If he’s still working his way back towards full match fitness this will have helped, as he never stopped trying to close down Baggies defenders.
Millwall had much more of a presence up front when Smith came on for Murray Wallace, which also meant Ferguson moved to his more natural position at left-back.
And Smith ultimately made a decisive difference.
Millwall: 4-4-1-1: Bialkowski; Romeo (Ferguson, 53), Pearce, Cooper, M Wallace (Smith, 64); J Wallace, Leonard, Williams, Mahoney; Thompson; Bradshaw (Bodvarsson, 74).
Subs: Steele, Hutchinson, Skalak, O'Brien.
Image: Millwall FC