The Sky Blues travelled to the Nation’s Capital today for our second league fixture of the season - Millwall away at The Den. It was a scorcher of a day outside with temperatures reaching 33 degrees in London before kick off, and I was hopeful that our football would be as beautiful as the weather! I decided to stay at home in the shade for this one rather than making the trip, so was watching along via iFollow.
The day started off with some bad news for City fans - our next game, Wigan at home on Tuesday, has been postponed. I’m not surprised, but as I wrote in my last blog on Wednesday night, the situation we find ourselves in with our pitch is embarrassing and farcical. There seems to be no end in sight to the problem either - will our pitch ever be playable again?
The weather, as nice as it is, has probably played a part in us not having a playable surface at the moment. We need the turf to grow, and with no rain and constant sunshine it’s surely having an impact. The lack of football could also be having an effect on our players’ match sharpness - I sincerely hoped it wasn’t, and ahead of todays game I felt reasonably confident that we could come away with a point at least. We’re a good footballing side and while we have got a poor performance in us, I just had a feeling that today wouldn’t be the day we get a pasting. Then again, Millwall are a solid side and they’d definitely not be looking to make things easy for us.
Mark Robins had picked a decent starting XI for us - only one change from our last league fixture away at Sunderland, with Fankaty Dabo coming in at right wing back ahead of Josh Eccles. Dabo would be joined at the back by Jake Bidwell on the left, Dom Hyam, Kyle McFadzean and Jonathan Panzo in the back 3, in front of Simon Moore in goal. Ben Sheaf and Gustavo Hamer would anchor our midfield, with Jamie Allen playing in behind Matty Godden and Viktor Gyokeres. Today would be a big test for Allen - he was marked out of the game at Sunderland, so would need to create a lot more in that role today. I was keen to see what our front two would do though and whether they looked any sharper than they had a couple of weeks ago, and Jonathan Panzo at the back had the opportunity to be a key player for us again if he played how he did at Sunderland as well.
The game started perfectly for the Sky Blues, with the opening goal coming in the 2nd minute. A corner was swung in from the left, flicked on at the near post and then bundled across the line by big Kyle McFadzean, who had bullied his marker to win the ball ahead of them. It wasn’t the prettiest goal, but who cares? What a start to the game!
Conceding early seemed to rock the hosts, and they struggled to cope with us in the following stages. They looked at sixes and sevens whenever we got the ball forwards - Matty Godden even put it in the net after the ball had broken through to him in the box, but this was ruled out for offside. It was the correct decision, Godden was about a yard ahead of the last defender to be fair. Millwall attempted to break once or twice and when they did, they looked fairly quick but anything they threw at us was quickly snuffed out by our defence. We looked pretty comfortable through what was a stop start kind of first half (not least because of the drinks breaks due to the heat!) - one of the stoppages came about when Gustavo Hamer was scythed down on the touch line by Millwall’s Jamie Shackleton who was shown a yellow card for the tackle. Simon Moore crossed over to take the free kick once Hamer was back on his feet and was greeted in typical Millwall style with the home fans appearing to throw things at him from the stands. Classy.
Viktor Gyokeres went close for City after a chipped through ball from Jamie Allen - the ball actually bounced off Gyokeres’ back, but he was able to swivel and then turn on to his left foot, take a touch and get a shot away without any real pressure from the Millwall defence. The result was a corner, but unfortunately this came to nothing. Not long afterwards though, Gyokeres would have a hand in our second goal - some neat play between him and Jake Bidwell on the left meant Bidwell had room for a cross, and his ball into the box was perfect. A sliding Matty Godden met the ball on the volley and it found the far corner, and Godden wheeled away to celebrate - quite literally, as he performed a wheel barrow celebration with the help of Fankaty Dabo. Genius, better than the aeroplane and the lawnmower for me!
Millwall promptly went up the other end, with Tyler Burey finding some room in the box after the ball was played into him. Burey went down looking for a penalty and was rightly booked, with a free kick being given our way. Millwall had looked bang average throughout the first half - we had been completely in control and we looked like we were cruising. Until the 35th minute that is - a Millwall free kick from just inside our half was pumped up towards the edge of the box, and it looked like a relatively easy set piece to deal with. It certainly wasn’t the kind of ball you’d expect to concede from, however Simon Moore came flying out of his goal to the edge of the area and was beaten all ends up in the air amongst the mix of players who’d jumped for the ball - as it happened, Jake Cooper had risen highest and his header trickled into the empty net, given that Moore was in no man’s land. If he’d stayed on his line, there’s no way we would’ve conceded that goal and at 2-1, the home side instantly had a route back into the game!
Moore was called into action not long afterwards with George Honeyman and Murray Wallace having shots saved - Moore redeemed himself here slightly, but showed just how quickly a game can change after a moment of madness. We desperately needed to get to half time just to settle things down - we did go into the break still in the lead, but with Gustavo Hamer picking up his customary booking just before the whistle was blown.
Overall it had been a solid first half for us, the early goal had really helped and we had a strong grip on the game right until we’d conceded. It was still very much there for the taking though if we could start the second half well, and not make any more mistakes. Sure enough, we did start brightly and had a couple of early chances after play had resumed, but we couldn’t break through and get a third goal.
And then, in the 53rd minute it was Millwall who found a breakthrough. Tyler Burey skipped through our defence and curled a shot from 20 yards out towards the far corner - Simon Moore made a brilliant fingertip save on to the post, but nobody in Sky Blue had followed the shot into the box. The only man on the pitch who did follow in was George Honeyman, who was left with a simple tap in after the ball had bounced out towards the penalty spot. He was judged to be onside - I couldn’t really tell from the TV angle, but regardless it was another goal we could’ve avoided! Everybody stopped to watch Burey’s shot and seemed to forget that the ball could still be live, it was like our defence all expected it either to go in or be pushed wide for a corner.
Following the equaliser, the game swung back into our favour and we instantly got back on the attack. Viktor Gyokeres was proving to be difficult for Millwall to handle, his bustling runs on the ball always seem to be effective when he’s on that left channel! We won a corner at one point from a Kyle McFadzean long range effort - the ball in was good, and was met by a Sky Blue head but it cannoned back off the bar rather than going in. Fine margins in football, as they say. The ball was then rolled into the path of Ben Sheaf from the rebound, who hit a shot goalwards which appeared to strike a Millwall hand. The referee waved away our protests, but having seen a replay I thought we had a case - the defenders arm was up, and despite the close range the shot was hit from the arm was definitely in an unnatural position up by the side of the players’ face. It’s one that probably would’ve been given if this had been a Premier League game with VAR!
Disaster then struck for City in the 67th minute. A Sky Blues attack was broken up and the ball was cleared, and it was met first by Millwall’s Burey who knocked it away from Gustavo Hamer - Hamer went charging in, clearly second to the ball and he absolutely cleaned Burey out. He was duly shown a second yellow card and really, we can have no complaints about that at all. It was a poor challenge, and realistically it was probably unnecessary as well - Burey was still in his own half!
At this point it was a different game - Millwall now had the advantage after being on the back foot ever since they’d equalised. It could’ve still gone either way, but you’d always fancy the team with 11 over the team with 10. I thought that Robins would make a change after the sending off but he decided not to, keeping our shape and just dropping Matty Godden deeper, with Jamie Allen also dropping further into midfield alongside Ben Sheaf.
The pace of the game had slowed down, with subs being made by the home side and them now starting to gain more momentum. They tested us a couple of times from set pieces, Wallace having a strong header saved by Moore. Viktor Gyokeres almost scored a worldie for the Sky Blues with another run and shot, which forced the Millwall Keeper Bartosz Bialkowski into a save down to his left, but this was as close we came to threatening the hosts in the closing stages.
The inevitable happened with around 5 minutes left on the clock - a ball pumped into the box was headed away by Kyle McFadzean, with Benik Afobe picking up the loose ball and rolling it to George Saville, who beat Simon Moore to make it 3-2 and complete the Millwall turnaround. It summed up what had been a bit of a ding dong battle really - of course there was another twist to come before the end, and unfortunately for us the pendulum had fully swung the way of Millwall. Our first substitutions then finally came in the 88th minute, with Godden and Panzo being replaced by Fabio Tavares and Josh Eccles. It was too little too late sadly.
The game fizzled out and in the end, and was eventually won by Millwall - a great result for them, helped along the way by us, but they won’t care of course! Coming back from 2-0 down to win still takes some doing. It’s frustrating from a Sky Blue perspective of course, as we’d been in control of the game for so long and even when it was 2-2 we had looked more likely to score until Hamer’s red card. It feels like a game we’ve thrown away.
Without a doubt, Mark Robins should’ve made some substitutions earlier on. Especially in response to going a man down - he had the likes of Tavares, Palmer and Walker to call upon - why not give us some fresh legs? Especially given the heat! It seems strange that he’s waited so long, but then again he’s always been notorious for not making changes. It’s his only weakness for me. It wasn’t what lost us the game though, ultimately that was a combination of errors and the sending off.
On the plus side, we looked sharp despite our lack of games, and in front of goal we didn’t struggle which is always nice. I thought Godden and Gyokeres were excellent today, and in the first half the only player who put a foot wrong was Moore for the opening goal. Jamie Allen worked hard and he seemed to create more this time around than he had against Sunderland, we are still missing Callum O’Hare but that goes without saying. It’s a shame to have lost, but it’s one we’ll have to take on the chin and move on from.
On to the next one, whenever that is - our next away game isn’t until the 27th, I hope we don’t have to wait that long to play again!