SHAUN Williams scored a brilliant goal as Millwall drew 1-1 against Gary Rowett’s former club Birmingham City at St Andrews on Saturday.
Blues goalkeeper Connal Trueman produced an outstanding save to deny Matt Smith in the 35th minute before the goalkeeper then palmed away Ben Thompson's shot as Millwall created the best chances before the break.
Millwall took the lead in spectacular fashion in the 61st minute. Mahlon Romeo, Ben Thompson and Jed Wallace combined on the right before the latter moved infield and picked out Williams who took two touches before rifling a shot into the top left corner in front of the away fans.
Birmingham were level in the 79th minute as Jake Clarke-Salter finished from close range from Dan Crowley’s corner.
More evidence of Rowett influence
There was a piece of play near the end of the first half that showed the different style Rowett is trying to implement. Alex Pearce passed the ball to centre-back partner Jake Cooper, with Williams running into a position deep in midfield to create an option for the defender to his left. Cooper found Williams who passed to Murray Wallace pushing into a position advanced of the midfielder.
Wallace was closed down so passed back inside to Cooper with the defender also under pressure. But instead of safety first Cooper calmly rounded Alvaro Gimenez and played the ball forward to Jayson Molumby who could then move into the space in front of him in midfield.
That move didn’t result in the creation of a chance, but the way Millwall pressed aggressively high up the pitch did. They would have been ahead of half-time but for Trueman’s stunning save from Smith.
One of the players leading the press was Williams, who is someone who can benefit a lot under Rowett as the Ireland international wants to be on the ball. He spotted the opportunity to move forward as Romeo and Thompson linked up with Wallace down the right and when he gets the chance to shoot he has the quality to finish from distance. It was his first goal since last March.
Millwall looked in relative control from there, but Blues had an ace up their sleeve in Jefferson Montero, who had given the Lions plenty of problems previously playing for Swansea.
Montero took up a position close to the left touchline and provided Blues with a different attacking dimension. He sent in two quick dangerous crosses that Millwall defended well.
But for all Montero’s threat from open play, Blues equalised from a set-piece and that will be a cause of real frustration as Pearce and Cooper had defended so well and organised the defence with discipline.
At the same time Millwall will reflect on a good point gained as Rowett came up against the side that sacked him. There were lots of good individual performances and it was certainly good to see Jiri Skalak starting for the first time since August and putting in a good shift, especially defensively.
Blues were claiming a penalty in the 14th minute when Jude Bellingham went down under apparent contact from Murray Wallace, but referee Andy Woolmer emphatically waved play-on. The Lions immediately countered through Jed Wallace who set up left-back Wallace to cross, but Thompson headed over.
Blues lost centre-back Marc Roberts in the 27th minute after he appeared to suffer a serious injury to his left leg and had to be stretchered off, with Harlee Dean coming on.
Bart Bialkowski was called into proper action in the 29th minute as he dived low to his left to save Ivan Sunjic’s 25-yard shot.
Jed Wallace wanted a penalty in the 32nd minute but didn’t get anything. Millwall were pressing high and when Wallace won the ball on the left he beat a defender before curling in an outstanding cross. What followed was better as Smith powered a header that looked like it was in before Trueman sprang to his right to somehow make the save.
Thompson then did well to chest the ball over Bellingham before firing in a left-footed half-volley from the left of the penalty box and Trueman produced another fine save.
Trueman had one more save to make in the first half when he safely gathered Jed Wallace’s injury-time effort. Wallace then dragged an effort wide of the far post just before the half-time whistle.
Three minutes into the second half the Birmingham bench was running towards fourth official James Oldham to remonstrate after the hosts seemed to be denied a penalty. They felt Cooper had pulled back Gimenez and they had a good case.
Millwall were let off the hook in the 51st minute when Lukas Jutkiewicz ran through on the right side of the box, but he oddly attempted a left-footed effort and awkwardly dragged his shot wide.
Jutkiewicz was a threat again but sliced an effort wide of the near post.
They rued not going ahead when they were on top when Williams fired home a stunner.
With 16 minutes left Smith fought past Jake Clarke-Salter before flicking the ball past Trueman. But the angle was tight and Smith couldn’t quite dig out a pass to a team-mate before the goalkeeper recovered to claim the ball.
Birmingham pressed forward and Clarke-Salter rescued a point.
Rowett made two changes to the side that drew 2-2 against Wigan on Tuesday.
Shaun Hutchinson was out with a rib injury, so club skipper Pearce returned to the side.
Skalak started for the first time since the 4-4 defeat at Fulham in August, with Connor Mahoney dropping to the bench.
Smith started for Tom Bradshaw in a lone striker role.
Millwall: 4-4-1-1: Bialkowski; Romeo, Pearce, Cooper, M Wallace; Thompson (O’Brien, 89), Molumby, Williams, Skalak (Bodvarsson, 85); J Wallace; Smith (Bradshaw, 85).
Subs: Steele, Brown, Mitchell, Mahoney.
Image: Millwall FC