By Simeon Wright at the City Ground
MILLWALL resisted the new manager bounce but could only manage another draw, as they shared a point apiece with Nottingham Forest at The City Ground.
Matt Smith headed the Lions into a half-time lead before Bartosz Bialkowski was caught out by Max Lowe’s cross, which the Forest left-back whipped into the top left corner of Millwall’s net.
It is now six draws from nine at the start of the Championship campaign for Gary Rowett’s side, who sit 19th in the Championship.
Forest, managed for the first time today by Steve Cooper, are still in the relegation zone.
Forest were roared on by most of the 25,589 faithful in the opening exchanges and nearly went in front after five minutes when Djed Spence picked out Lewis Grabban, but Bialkowski denied the striker from within the six-yard box. Grabban’s afternoon was then cut short after 25 minutes when an injury forced him off and he was replaced by ex-Charlton forward Lyle Taylor.
Taylor received an expectedly cold welcome from the travelling Lions fans, who were cheering minutes later as Smith’s header trickled into the bottom-right corner, following great work by Sheyi Ojo. The on-loan Liverpool man found space to cross from the right and picked out the 6”6’ striker with aplomb, to register an assist which his performance deserved.
That goal sapped much of the noise from the home crowd who had been up on their feet to a man to applaud Cooper as he came out.
There might have been more for the Lions before half-time, too, but a succession of long throws and corners from right wing-back Ryan Leonard and Conor Mahoney respectively failed to lead to a another goal.
Early in the second half that lucky delivery from Lowe snatched two points from Millwall.
Star man Jed Wallace missed out as he did against Leicester City through illness, while Benik Afobe and Tom Bradshaw entered the fray late on but did not have time to make an impact.
Winger Philip Zinckernagel, on loan at Forest from Watford, gave Millwall food for thought in the final 25 minutes as his pace on the counter-attack forced Maikel Kieftenbeld to pick up a yellow card in exchange for thwarting a dangerous move – that the Dutch midfielder’s final part in the match as he was subbed right away for George Evans.
Millwall went closest to winning it as Ojo and Smith combined again but the forward’s effort smacked off the crossbar.
Jake Cooper left out
The Lions centre-half has been an ever-present in the Championship two out of the last three seasons, but found himself on the bench this afternoon after a difficult night against FA Cup winners Leicester on Wednesday.
Daniel Ballard, vice-captain Shaun Hutchinson and Murray Wallace made up Gary Rowett’s back three and held firm for much of the game.
Lions fans are likely to be content whichever trio out of those names started, and experienced club captain Alex Pearce is also an option. It is nine goals scored and 11 conceded so far in the Championship, leaving the Lions with a goal difference of minus-two.
First league goal since February for Smith
Smith’s opener was far from against the run of play as Millwall began to grow into the first half. The big striker used his top asset to find the bottom-right corner of the Forest net, and will be hoping that this could be the start of a hot streak.
He has never been the most prolific of centre-forwards, but did hit double-figures two seasons ago for the Lions and went toe-to-toe with Tobias Figueiredo every time Leonard or Scott Malone on the left-hand side put the ball into the box.
Bradshaw and Afobe both made cameos towards the end, so much to think about for Rowett ahead of Wednesday’s home fixture against Bristol City.
Ojo a constant nuisance in attack
Millwall fans are more than aware that Ojo has had his fair share of loan moves – seven including his current club in fact – though the talent is there for all to see.
He was the architect of Smith’s goal but with a little more quality might have set Millwall up for a second midway through the second half – the home supporters were incensed when the ball hit referee Jeremy Simpson, who had half-signalled to stop the game before waving play on and allowing Ojo to break.
The ball eventually found its way to Smith, but a tame header from point-blank range could not trouble Brice Samba in the Forest goal in the 66th minute.
Dropped points from a winning position
Millwall found themselves in the driving seat of a match for the first time since Cooper’s stoppage-time winner against Blackpool in late-August, but little blame it is fair to say can be thrown the way of Rowett or his team for the manner in which the lead was relinquished today.
Lowe’s goal was one of those moments in football which look absolutely fantastic, but in all honesty are pretty fluky and unfair on the team that concedes the goal. The Forest left-back was reluctant to even celebrate, though for new boss Cooper it is luck which his predecessor Chris Hughton was not afforded during his 11 months at the City Ground.
Image: Millwall FC