Millwall 1, Barnsley 3
A repeat of their 2015-16 League One play-off final scoreline earned Barnsley their first away victory for five months – and even Millwall manager Neil Harris admitted that it was deserved.
Reds’ head coach Paul Heckingbottom was not arguing with that, although he did, apparently, express his disagreement with referee Oliver Norwood’s decision to award the home team a first half penalty in such strong terms that he was ordered to spend the entire second half sitting in the stands.
Heckingbottom was still insisting after the game that the official, acting on the advice of his assistant, had got it wrong when Matty Pearson was penalised for his challenge on Lee Gregory.
“It was a clean tackle”, claimed Heckingbottom. “We could all see that. When I watched it back it was so apparent, with the Millwall players’ reaction, but the linesman’s flag went straight up.
“I made sure none of the players went up to the referee at half-time. I approached him myself. When I came out for the second half to go to the technical area he told me I couldn’t go in there.
“I didn’t want to make a scene, but I don’t know why I wasn’t allowed to be there in the second half.”
As it happened it had no adverse effect on the game as far as the Reds were concerned. Going in at the break with the scores level at 1-1 they added two more goals in the second half – and might even have had more.
It was a performance which left Heckingbottom as pleased as punch, despite his red card!
“!’m delighted with the way we handled Millwall,” he said. The only blemish was in not keeping a clean sheet.”
Some people are never really satisfied, are they? But then, that’s the best way of targeting improvements.
For example, a team with so many new players as the Reds have fielded this season needs time to build up an understanding, and there were further signs on this occasion that this is beginning to happen.
Some of the link-up play was top-class and while Tom Bradshaw (pictured) earned the plaudits with his match-winning double he owed much to the supply line provided by an outstanding Ashley Barnes down the left flank.
The first half provided little of note until Barnes sprinted clear five minutes before the break to deliver the perfect cut-back for Bradshaw to steer the ball home from close range.
The game sprang suddenly to life and Millwall levelled matters in the second minute of first half stoppage time with that controversial penalty, converted by Gregory who was also the player who had gone down under pressure from Pearson.
On the resumption, with Heckingbottom banished to the stands, the Reds were indebted to a point-blank save by Adam Davies from Steve Morison and there was a period of Millwall pressure, but Barnsley began to create chances of their own, particularly on the break.
A Brad Potts’ header brought a brilliant save from Jordan Archer and on the hour mark the Barnes-Bradshaw combination struck again.
This time there was some excellent complementary play by Cameron McGeehan, who was making his full debut. He played a superb 35-yard pass to Barnes, who again provided the cross from which Bradshaw gleefully netted with a carbon-copy of his opener to give his side the lead.
Victory was assured seven minutes from time when two substitutes combined in the third goal, ironically from a penalty!
Jared Bird was brought down and Mamadou Thiam made no mistake from the spot.
The Reds could have increased their lead in stoppage time, with Adam Hammill firing wide from a good position and Thiam forcing the goalkeeper into a fine save.
Millwall boss Harris had no complaints. “If you give any players at this standard the opportunities they will take them. Barnsley deserved to win.”
It was the Reds fifth win in the last five meetings with Millwall, and this one, at a notoriously difficult venue, provided another promising indication that Heckingbottom is putting together yet another team that will eventually do Barnsley proud.
There is still a lot of work to be done, and there will be disappointments along the way, but players and fans alike can go into the international break in a very positive frame of mind.
Millwall: Archer; McLaughlin, Webster, Hutchinson, Meredith (Onyedinma, 81 mins), Wallace, Tunnicliffe, Saville, O’Brien (Ferguson, 64 mins), Gregory, Morison.
Barnsley (4-1-4-1): Davies; McCarthy, Jackson, Lindsay, Pearson; Wiliams; Hammill, McGeehan (Bird, 81 mins), Potts, Barnes (Hedges, 72 mins); Bradshaw (Thiam, 72 mins).
Bookings: Wallace, Ferguson (Millwall); McCarthy, Pearson, McGeehan (Barssley).
Referee: Oliver Langford.