With Millwall’s previous four games ending with the honours even, and Birmingham City’s last two sharing the same fate, it should perhaps have been no surprise that Saturday’s game at St. Andrew’s ended in a draw, and a goalless one at that. With only 10 goals so far this season in all competitions, and with six of those goals sitting on the bench for the Blues, the game held very little attacking threat in the final third.
The away side had been more potent, with 18 goals in all competitions, their 12 scored in the league elevating them to 10th, seven places above the Blues. However, Gary Rowett set up his team with five at the back for the visit to his prior employers, and with few possibilities in midfield, the main offensive outlet for the Den-based side came in the form of infrequent counter attacks, rather than expansive build-up play.
Both sides made three changes from midweek, with the away side, playing in green and white, bringing back captain Alex Pearce for his first appearance since the 24th of October. The key returner for Birmingham was Jonathan Leko, whose darting runs down the right-hand side of the pitch were the highlight of an otherwise drab first half.
The most dangerous moment came in the 17th minute, with a dangerous low cross struck by Jón Daði Böðvarsson just failing to reach Troy Parrott’s outstretched foot, Harlee Dean making a last-minute clearance to dispel any danger.
While command of the half was taken by Birmingham, and the side in blue always looked the better going forward, a number of speculative crosses and half-chances permeated the half, with strong midfield play from the pairing of Ivan Sanchez and Mikel San Jose the main positive for Aitor Karanka’s side.
Böðvarsson was involved again on 50 minutes, when a Jed Wallace ball into the six yard box was sent wide of the post by the Icelandic international’s head.
Another headed effort occurred nine minutes later when Kristian Pedersen was devastated after he failed to put Birmingham in front, sending the ball over the bar from the centre of the six yard box.
The 65th minute featured a series of Millwall corners and pressure from the away side, the first featuring a dangerous cross from frequent supplier Jed Wallace that was caught under the feet of the Birmingham defence, and very narrowly missed being turned goalwards by the large number of Lions players in the box.
Jérémie Bela was introduced as a substitute with 12 minutes to go, and made bright runs in behind a tiring away defence, as well as nearly an immediate contribution to the scoreline three minutes later when he could only head into the side netting from a cross that had beaten the defence.
Marc Roberts managed to turn his header goalwards in the 88th minute, firing into the ground from a Sanchez corner and forcing a hurried save out of Bialkowski in the Millwall goal. The match was not without late drama at the other end either, with Murray Wallace producing an acrobatic overhead effort that had Neil Etheridge beaten had it been directed anywhere other than centrally in the last minute of regulation.
The solitary point from the game meant Millwall were relegated a place to 11th by an in-form Blackburn Rovers, whose 11 points from their last five matches now has them looking up the table, rather than down. Birmingham remained in 17th after the fixture, with no team below them in the table able to pick up anything more than a draw themselves.
Speaking to his club’s website after the game, manager Gary Rowett was philosophical when faced with his team’s performance, and remarked on the even nature of the game:
“Pleased with some of the aspects, pleased with our character again, I don’t think you can ever be too displeased with a 0-0, but it was a tough game, it was a tough match to try and create any space, I think, for both sides. Once again, we had a home team, and I think they created one big chance from a cross in the box. We probably created one big chance.”
Head coach Aitor Karanka also thought the result was a fair reflection of how the 90 minutes played out, telling his club website that a defensive set-up was required to make the game a contest:
“I knew it was going to be a tough game because they are a very good team. They have their style, and they are really aggressive. They like to play long balls but are also very good at getting the second balls. We had to approach the game the way we did otherwise it would have been impossible to even take a point. The only chance they had was from a set-piece, our defenders have been excellent once again. We had a few chances as well.”