Millwall out-Birminghamed us on Wednesday night. They played quick counter-attacking football in the first half, got a two-goal cushion, and sat back to frustrate us in the second half.
When I first saw the team selection, I was excited by the pace. Che and Vassell up front with Mahoney and Mrabti on the wings were sure to cause Millwall’s defence problems.
We started on the front foot, like we so often do, but the game felt tense and subdued – perhaps a hangover from the V*lla game. If Forest beat V*lla and we beat Millwall, we’d go above our rivals and Sunday (the football aspects, at least) could be forgotten.
Yet we couldn’t quite get our foot on the ball. By no means are Millwall a better footballing side than us, but they got their goals and dug in. Our passes were sloppy, our shots were weak, and we were void of ideas.
What was most exasperating was that without Juke on the pitch, we played our most long-ball-heavy game of the season so far. Before Millwall’s opener in the 13th minute, we were at least trying to play our way through their defence.
But from when Ben Thompson hit the back of the net for the visitors, we played the remaining 77 minutes like it was stoppage time of an FA Cup semi-final and we had nothing to lose.
It was predictable that Millwall weren’t going to come to St Andrews to play exciting, expansive and electrifying football. We’ve been at the wrong end of the table for long enough in recent years to know that the game plan of a team struggling for survival would be to sit deep, avoid conceding early, wait for the natives to get restless, and use their pacey attackers on the counter. We used to do this so well.
When Pederson and Harding ventured forward with the ball, they’d wave their arms in frustration at the lack of movement and be forced back towards Morrison, Dean or Camp. This was routinely followed by along ball, which was won by a Millwall player, and the process would start again.
The second goal after half an hour was a sucker punch, and we were bood off at half time.
Craig Gardener brought some much-needed composure to Blues’ game when he came on at the start of the second half, but we were crowded out in the final third and just resorted to long-balls.
When we’ve played lesser-on-paper teams at St Andrews – Bolton, Ipswich, now Millwall – we struggle. Whether it’s mentality or just poor game planning, it’s an issue that needs to be fixed.
Perhaps the intense media coverage and scrutiny of the V*lla game was too burdensome for our players. Knowing that more eyes than usual would be on the potentially spicy game between Blues and Millwall may have affected our players more than Monk anticipated.
Saturday’s away game against an in-form Preston could be just what the doctor ordered. It’ll be a tough game, but against a confident side and over 5,000 Blues fans making the journey, three points will be vital to give the whole club a much-needed lift.