A new formation, the right response to deadline day and why Richard Wood couldn't stop smiling ... the story of Millwall 0 Rotherham United 0

By Paul Davis | 03/02/2019

A new formation, the right response to deadline day and why Richard Wood couldn't stop smiling ... the story of Millwall 0 Rotherham United 0
Richard Wood at Millwall. Pictures by Trevor Price

FLASHPOINT, 50th minute. Lee Gregory took exception to the attention of Richard Wood, jumped up from the ground and pushed his head into the face of the Rotherham United defender.

Wood reacted with a huge smile. The centre-half was back in the side, he was wearing the captain's armband again, the physical battle was intense, his team were up for the scrap, he was disagreeing with every decision that went against him.

We haven't even got to the penalty-box dust-up involving every outfield player that he'd provoke six minutes later.

Wood was loving it.

Richard Wood in the thick of the action

He and his teammates raised the temperature on a freezing afternoon in the infamously-hostile setting of Cold Blow Lane.

This was a satisfying day for the Millers, a perfect and much-needed response to a troubled final week of the transfer window that brought the frustration of no new signings.

They held the Championship's form team and so dominant were they for a spell in the second half that they could have beaten a side that had seen off Premier League Everton in the FA Cup seven days earlier and had won four and drawn one of their previous six league contests.

"Moving into February and getting a point here is good," said manager Paul Warne who saw his decision to switch to a 3-5-2 formation pay off.

"Millwall are an excellent team and make it really hard for you. They'd won five in seven if you include the cup. They're no mugs. A draw will give the lads a massive boost.

"On the whole, we're really pleased with a point on our travels, although I think our performance deserved a win."

THE MATCH

Some people may think it madness to make such wholesale alterations to the system away in the Lions' Den but Warne had already given insanity its due consideration after taking only three points in January.

"We had to be brave and make changes," the boss said. "You know the saying about being insane if you do the same thing every week and expect a different result.

"This could be a turning point for us because we've had a few bad results recently."

With Wood at the heart of three central defenders at the back and with a fourth, Semi Ajayi, in midfield, Rotherham were a big side. Millwall corners at the Den are sponsored by a funeral director and the Millers made certain they wouldn't suffer a death by set-pieces.

It was Warne's turn to grin. "I know what you're thinking," he told reporters. "You're impressed with me as a coach. I appreciate that.

"Neil (Millwall boss Harris) said to me afterwards that they weren't expecting us to play that way.

Michael Smith's big chance

"I've always wanted to play three at the back because it allows you to go with two up front. It's a dream for Woody playing in the middle of a three. If anyone can play there, it's him. He organised the team really well. It will be a system I look at again."

The first half was utterly forgettable, so let's utterly forget it, then Gregory squared up to Wood, Ajayi lashed a decent chance wide and the game was on.

Michael Smith was played through one on one with goalkeeper Jordan Archer by Jerry Yates in the 55th minute. Archer was there to be beaten but the Rotherham striker couldn't hit the bullseye and the save was made.

Seconds later, Smith was denied again, this time by Ben Marshall's goalline clearance, and the recalled Wood, arriving fashionably late in his first match for a month, let Archer know he was there in the scramble that ensued.

Wood hit the deck as arms, tempers and handbags were raised by everyone except Marek Rodak in the faraway goal and the visiting skipper eventually trotted off happily with his booking.

Loving it.

"I was jumping up and down when it fell to Smudge," said Warne. "I was waiting for the net to ripple. Then there was a melee when Woody got smashed up."

Matt Crooks

A missed 83rd-minute Marshall header apart, the Millers were holding out comfortably until the final minute of five added on when - courageously, stupidly, admirably, naively, I don't know - they went for the winner themselves.

Instead of playing for the corner and running down the clock, Will Vaulks launched a long throw-in, Millwall broke and Gregory fluffed a last-second sitter at the back post.

Ajayi, having initially given the ball away from the throw, had raced back to pressure the Millwall forward at the crucial moment.

"We had a scare late on," Warne acknowledged. "That would have been a big sucker-punch for us. Semi kindly set them up for their chance but, in fairness, he did run the length of the pitch to stop the lad from scoring."

Boos at the final whistle bore testimony to the job Rotherham had done on the home team.

Millwall fans had ramped up the volume late one, a collective, cacophonous hum reverberating around three sides of the ground.

It was to no avail, a wall of noise unable to break down a wall of 3-5-2 defiance.

THE DEBUTANTS

Midfielder Matt Crooks, his long legs covering a lot of ground to impressive effect, did well on his first Championship start.

So, too, after a nervy beginning, did the right-sided member of the centre-half trinity, Michael Ihiekwe, also making his second-tier bow for the Millers.

Michael Ihiekwe

Warne praised them both and knew better than anyone the importance of a result that keeps his men out of the bottom three.

"The key today was not to lose," he said after a first clean sheet in 17 games and only a fifth point away from AESSEAL New York Stadium this season. "Anything on our travels is good in this league

"We had defensive solidity against the division's most in-form team. And at the Den as well. It's a win, win, win."

Actually it was a draw, draw, draw.

But the point - and the manner in which it was won - left more than Wood in the Millers camp smiling.

Millwall (4-3-3): Jordan Archer; Mahlon Romeo, Shaun Hutchinson, Jake Cooper, Murray Wallace; Shaun Williams, Ryan Leonard, Ben Thompson; Jed Wallace, Lee Gregory, Ben Marshall. Unused: David Martin, Fred Onyedinma, Shane Ferguson, Alex Pearce, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Aiden O'Brien.

Subs: Steve Morison (for Thompson, 65 minutes).

Rotherham (3-5-2): Marek Rodak; Michael Ihiekwe, Richard Wood, Clark Robertson; Billy Jones, Matt Crooks, Semi Ajayi, Will Vaulks, Joe Mattock; Michael Smith, Jerry Yates. Not used: Lewis Price, Zak Vyner, Anthony Forde, Jon Taylor, Joe Newell.

Subs: Kyle Vassell (for Yates, 67), Richie Towell (for Crooks, 89).

Referee: Andy Madley (West Yorkshire).

Attendance: 12,084 (460).


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