By Alex Grace at Priestfield
MILLWALL were held to a 1-1 draw in their penultimate pre-season friendly against Gillingham at the Priestfield Stadium on Tuesday evening.
Kyle Dempsey gave the hosts the lead in the first half but Jake Cooper headed home from a corner in the final five minutes to ensure the game ended level.
Millwall had the first opportunity of the game after four minutes, Scott Malone diverting Ben Thompson’s cross to Ryan Leonard but the midfielder was unable to get his feet sorted out to be able to strike at goal.
On 11 minutes, Leonard was involved again but this time in his own box, producing a superb block from Danny Lloyd’s close-range effort.
However, just two minutes later the home side took the lead. Millwall’s defence was slow to close down Dempsey who had time to carve out an effort from outside the box to fire past Bartsoz Bialkowski and into the bottom corner.
Thompson – who has been linked with a return to Portsmouth in the last few days – tried to get the Lions back in the game, as he moved forward into space that had opened up in the Gills’ midfield but he saw his shot charged down by the home defence.
On the half-hour mark, Malone raced past the home defence and produced a wonderful cross for Benik Afobe who failed to make contact – though it looked like he may have been fouled. The Stoke loanee then had another chance but his shot from Danny McNamara’s cross was blocked.
The Lions started the second 45 minutes a lot better and sharper. Tom Bradshaw and Matt Smith were both introduced with Afobe and Mason Bennett departing.
Bradshaw came close to levelling the scores on 51 minutes. He made contact with a Malone cross but was flagged offside. Four minutes later Malone’s scissor effort was just wide of the far post.
In the 77th minute, a Trialist nearly put the Gills 2-0 up but his effort went past the post. Two minutes later, Millwall registered their first attempt on target, as Connor Mahoney’s powerful shot was kept out by Aaron Chapman.
As the final minutes approached, Bradshaw’s turn and shot was saved leading to a corner. Mahoney’s delivery was headed back across goal by Smith and headed into the net by Cooper to draw the Lions level.
Final third still a problem for Millwall
Millwall’s major problem last season was the fact they could not score enough goals and that hold-up and link-up play in the final third was not good enough to cause major problems at the top end of the Championship table.
Based on this evidence it still appears that those problems in the final third remain. Although, it’s still pre-season and albeit not Millwall’s strongest starting XI, but Bennett and Afobe were simply unable to get into the game and make anything stick in the opening 45 minutes.
The introduction of both Smith and Bradshaw did give the Lions a bit more of a presence in the second half but neither Cumming nor Chapman were really worked until Mahoney’s 79th-minute strike.
5-3-2 set to be the formation of choice – but defence looks shaky without key men
Gary Rowett changed formation last season to a 5-3-2 in order to help his side create more in the final third and that looks set to be the way he will set up this season.
Defence was a strong point for Millwall last season, as they had one of the best records in the league. The addition of Daniel Ballard to bolster that defence will only help.
However, without both Cooper and more importantly Shaun Hutchinson the Lions defence looks shaky and it’s hoped both will be available when the season starts.
Three new signings in the starting XI
Rowett named three of his summer signings in the side. Loanees Ballard and Afobe were joined by Malone.
The latter re-joined the club on a permanent deal this summer and you can see right away that he will again be a big part of Millwall’s attack, giving them such a threat down the left.
On the other side, McNamara and Mahlon Romeo will give teams something to think about.
Afobe is a proven striker at this level and knows what it takes to score goals. He looked sharp when the ball came to him and his intelligent movement in and around the box could be key for Millwall this season.
Millwall: 5-3-2: Bialkowski; McNamara (Romeo, 69), Ballard, Pearce (Cooper, 60), M Wallace, Malone; Leonard (Mahoney, 69), Evans (Saville, 69), Thompson (B Mitchell, 60); Afobe (Smith, 46), Bennett (Bradshaw, 46).
Image: Millwall FC