"The Whole World's a Stage..."
The spotlights were shining on The Den and both sides were primed to take centre stage, but unfortunately for the fans. The opening forty-five minutes of the game was more Star Wars Episode I than the Empire Strikes Back.
The game started with a long ball from the pass back from kick-off which was challenged by Tom Elliott in the opening minute, but the aerial battle with the Rovers back-line saw Elliott remain on the floor with an arm injury. Re-enacting the opening of Saving Private Ryan, medical staff took to the field to check on Millwall’s leading man, but he was judged by the Director on the side lines to cancel this audition and called in the veteran star, Steve Morison as his replacement.
In the 10th minute of the game, Joe Nuttall showed he was a great actor himself when he tried to throw himself to the ground and appeal for both a free-kick and a penalty, but Nutall’s acting ability was not Oscar worthy and the referee waved away his appeals.
In the 21st minute, Millwall had the first half chance of the game when Jed Wallace broke down the right hand side and unleashed a cross, but the ball was too long for Shane Ferguson and the pressure was relieved on the visitors.
In the 23rd minute there was another change, but this time it was the match official who would leave the production and be replaced by his understudy, the fourth official. The home fans were hoping that the change in referee would produce and upturn in poor decisions going against them, but unfortunately the director in charge of operations continued to appear lenient towards the Lancashire side and let a number of questionable decisions go.
The game struggled to really get going and there was some sloppy performances on the main stage by both teams and the late tackle by Travis on Ryan Leonard in the 36th minute only highlighted the quality of the action in the opening half. The new referee who had taken over the role of main villain decided to continue the ways of his predecessor and once again failed to put the Rovers man in his book.
There were two more late challenges in the 40th minutes that went unpunished in front of the Dockers Stand and the whistle at the 45 minute mark signalled the end of what was a poor first half of football.
Neil Harris’ pep talk at half-time spurred some life into his Millwall side as both Jed Wallace and Shane Ferguson started the second half well and was battling and chasing for every ball that was being played, but it was the visitors who started to up the tempo in the following act.
Slowly keeping the pressure on Millwall and starting to link up the play nicely, Rovers won a number of free kicks and in the 56th minute launched in a threatening free-kick, but the ball was cleared by the Lions’ defence.
Millwall had the first real clear-cut chance of the game when the ball fell to Ryan Leonard outside the Blackburn penalty area in the 60th minute. Unleashing a long range effort from around 25 yards, Leonard connected well, but Raya got down well and kept the shot out.
The away side kept the pressure up, started to camp themselves in the Millwall half and came close to causing the home defence problems, but it was the Lions who again had the game’s next real chance when Mahlon Romeo’s shot after Lee Gregory’s pass was kept out again by Raya in the 78th minute. The Blackburn ‘keeper was showing that although he may be considered an extra in the background of scenes highlighting the talents of Dack and Graham, that he could be the lead in his own right.
In the 85th minute, Blackburn struck when some build up play down the left hand side resulted in a cross coming in from Rovers substitute Armstrong and Nuttall was in the six-yard box to poke home.
Only a minute later, the man who always performs to the best of his talents against Millwall struck himself and Armstrong’s curled finish in the 86th minute from distance nestled into the back of Jordan Archer’s goal after the forward got the better of Millwall’s defence.
This proved to be the final real piece of action in the game and the final score ended 2-0 to the visitors. This was a poor performance from the home side who seemed like they were on a small community production stage, rather than under the spotlights and cameras and Sky TV. Let’s just hope that the sequel at Middlesbrough earns rave reviews from the critics.
Millwall: Archer, Meredith (Williams 87'), Hutchinson, Cooper, J. Wallace, Ferguson, Romeo, Tunnicliffe, Elliott (Morison 3'), O'Brien (Gregory 68'), Leonard.
Subs not used: Martin, Thompson, Pearce, M. Wallace.
Blackburn Rovers: Raya, Reed, Rodwell, Bell, Dack (Armstrong 74'), Nuttall, Lenihan, Travis, Evans (Nyambe 46'), Bennett, Conway (Graham 64').
Subs not used: Leutwiler, Rothwell, Brereton, Butterworth.