Millwall 4, Barnsley 1
(FA Cup, third round)
At first glance this looks like a thrashing for Barnsley at the hands of a team they defeated 3-1 on the same ground in a Championship match at the end of September.
But the scoreline flatters Millwall. The Reds were the better side in the first half-hour and should have had the game sewn up by that time.
Yet again their lack of potency in front of goal played a big part in their downfall. During that period of supremacy they took the lead through Brad Potts, but squandered three other good chances to build a lead which Millwall would have found very difficult to overcome.
And then, having seen the tables turned at 2-1 by a home side who found the net with every one of their four shots on target, a lunging tackle by Joe Williams (pictured) seven minutes after the break brought an inevitable red card and from that moment on there was going to be only one outcome.
That rash challenge changed the whole complexion of the game. Millwall capitalised by adding their third goal soon after the dismissal and it was game over even before they made it four.
However, Barnsley’s head coach Paul Heckingbottom admitted he was uneasy even before Williams’ premature departure.
“Although it was 1-1 at half-time I felt we had missed an opportunity and I saw signs that we weren’t really defending properly. The second goal was a clear indication of that. And then the sending off obviously put us on the back foot. I’m really disappointed.”
Barnsley were clearly the better side in the opening half-an-hour and they struck after only 11 minutes when a Jason McCarthy pass found Adam Hammill on the right and the latter’s first time cross was rammed home by Brad Potts from close range.
They then surged forward in a bid to consolidate this advantage, but Tom Bradshaw, Dimitri Cavare and Lloyd Isgrove frittered further good opportunities, failing to find the target when well placed, and the Reds were to pay dearly for their continuing lack of finishing flair.
Millwall’s resurgence began with an equaliser from Aiden O’Brien 10 minutes before the break after a good run down the left by Jed Wallace, and it was all downhill for the Reds from that moment on.
Two minutes after half-time the Barnsley defence failed to deal with another cross, this time from O’Brien, and Ben Thompson gleefully put his side in front.
It got a whole lot worse for the stunned Reds five minutes later when Williams launched into an ill-judged tackle on Wallace and rightly received his marching orders.
Shortly afterwards O’Brien rocketed in an unstoppable shot from 25 yards and that was it. Game over.
In the space of nine calamitous minutes the Reds had gone from level pegging at 1-1 to 3-1 behind with their key holding midfield player back in the dressing room.
After Fred Onyedinma had added a fourth for the Lions just after the hour mark there was nothing further worthy of note as the home team coasted into the fourth round with Barnsley’s resistance having been blown away.
As Heckingbottom added ruefully in his post-match press conference: “The only saving grace is that there were not three points lost.”
While that was patently true, one has to wonder what effect such a perceived drubbing might have on the fragile confidence of a team which has now won only one of their last 12 matches.
Especially as their next fixture, albeit at home, is against free-scoring runaway Championship leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers next Saturday, followed a week later by a visit to those other Midlands’ promotion-chasers Aston Villa, for whom a certain Conor Hourihane is playing an influential role in midfield.
It certainly does not get any easier!
Millwall: Martin; McLaughlin, Hutchinson, Cooper, Craig, Wallace (Twardek, 75 mins), Thompson, Williams, Onyedinma (Romeo, 85 mins), Morison (Gregory, 72 mins), O’Brien.
Barnsley (4-1-4-1): Davies; Cavare, Pinnock, Lindsay, McCarthy; Williams; Hammill (Thiam, 64 mins), Gardner, Potts (Mallan, 73 mins), Isgrove (Moncur, 64 mins); Bradshaw.
Sending Off: Williams (Barnsley).
Bookings: Cavare, Gardner (Barnsley).
Referee: Darren Bond.
Attendance: 5,319 (452 from Barnsley)