Birmingham City continued their poor run of form after suffering their third consecutive league defeat, losing 2-0 at St. Andrew’s to a Millwall side without a win in 4 games.
A brace from Ben Thompson in the first half helped Millwall to rise to 19th in the table, 3 places and 1 point above the relegation zone. Meanwhile Birmingham, devoid of attacking intent on Wednesday night, remain 13th in the Championship, falling 6 points adrift of the playoff positions.
Having latched on to Lee Gregory’s cross to drill the ball low past Camp for the opening goal, man of the match Ben Thompson produced a fine solo effort for his second, dribbling from the halfway line before cutting into the box and slotting the ball underneath the Blues keeper unchallenged.
Birmingham threatened at times in the first half, but the Lions kept them at bay after the break and limited Garry Monk’s side to very few shots on target. A resolute defence blocked Adams and Vassel time and time again from breaking into the box and ultimately ensured David Martin could keep a clean sheet upon his re-entry into the side.
The Lions bite back
Following a string of poor results, Neil Harris’ team were unrecognisable from the side that lost 2-1 to Bolton on the weekend. Their counter attacking play through the ever-threatening Gregory stretched the Blues and allowed Millwall to play through the home defence repeatedly.
Ben Thompson was a standout performer, showing great composure to bury Gregory’s powerful cross and even greater when faced with a 1-1 situation with Lee Camp. He worked tirelessly in midfielder to win balls back and start counter-attacks, linking well with Marshall and Wallace during a first half in which Millwall outplayed Birmingham in every position. The 466 away fans that made the trek up to the Midlands recognised Thompson’s contribution and chanted his name all night.
The Blues’ star striker Che Adams barely touched the ball all night and defender Jake Cooper surely deserves praise for man-marking the forward so effectively during his 90 minute contribution. In the air, Birmingham struggled to capitalise on any of their numerous corners, due to the determination of Pearce and Cooper to win every ball.
Harris complained in the post-match conference about “some very unfair articles written at the weekend that criticised me and my players” that he labelled as “unjust”.
“We’ve had a difficult spell. Tonight I picked the team that I thought could compete with Birmingham and cause them problems on the counter attack and I thought the lads were outstanding.”
Harris gathered his players in a huddle at the whistle to “show our solidarity”, going on to say “That’s the standards we’ve got to set and keep until the end of the season… we’re a strong group and we do our best for the club.”
Striker Gregory went off injured in the 64th minute with what the manager described as “a tight calf”, explaining that “it’s too soon to tell” the severity of the injury.
Birmingham lack impotence in Wake of Weekend Chaos
Following the awful attack on Jack Grealish in the Midlands derby on the weekend, which Birmingham lost 0-1 to Villa after Grealish scored the winner, the Blues were looking to put the event behind them and move on with their season.
The media were less inclined to allow them to do so. The club has done its best to apologise for the incident and the perpetrator has been arrested and jailed as a result of his actions. However, all eyes were on the team today to see how they would respond to the negative media attention spilling over from the weekend.
Unfortunately for Monk’s side, the Blues were unable to deliver on the pitch. The players seemed nervous and cautious in the first half, with negative play and passes back to Camp in goal frustrating the 20,151 home fans. They had just one shot on target in the first half, as Che Adams blasted a low shot into the legs of Martin from close range.
They responded well from going 1-0 down in the 12th minute, bursting into attack from kick-off. Unfortunately, yet again they were beaten on the counter by a pacey Millwall side, as Thompson left the Blues defence behind him as he tore into the box to slot in his second. Again, the home side flew out of the gates from the subsequent kick off, but Millwall repelled their attacks repeatedly and prevented any fluidity to the Blues play.
Leaving it until Late
The second half was a similar story. Birmingham came forward time and time again but the midfield battle was hard-fought and Millwall constantly turned the ball over and looked deadly on the counter.
It wasn’t until the last 10 minutes that the Blues exploded into life, backed by a roaring home support. Dominating possession and delivering plenty of balls in the box, City lacked the crucial final pass and the Millwall defence was just too resolute to allow any space to shoot.
Connor Mahoney was the standout player for Birmingham, with his trickery and skilful footwork allowing him to cause chaos down the left wing. Had he had the support down that wing to play passes into the box, the game could have had a different outcome.
As it turned out, Garry Monk was “hugely disappointed” come the final whistle. In his post-match conference, the former Swansea manager described the performance as “well below the levels that we know we’re capable of and the changing room knows it’s capable of”
“After an initial bright start, a first half full of errors for myself and especially the goals. It proved too costly for us in the end”
On the defending of his side: “poor from our point of view. Too many mistakes and individual errors in those goals… We really wanted to respond to the weekend… give the fans that positive result. That was the intention, but we just never reached the levels we know that changing room is capable of”
“We’re just in a patch at the moment where things aren’t quite going for us… what we have to do is respond and we have to respond strong… in these remaining games”
What’s next for these two sides?
Birmingham City travel to Preston on Saturday (15:00 KO), whilst Millwall face a huge FA Cup quarter final against Premier League Brighton on the same day (14:00 KO).