Bolton made their way to The New Den to play Millwall, who had only lost 1 game at home in their last 18 matches. The Wanderers, however, went in with history on their side having won 5 and drawn 2 of the teams’ last 7 meetings.
After two quite poor performances at wing back, Steven Darby was dropped from the line up and replaced by Mark Little as Bolton stuck to their 3-5-2 formation. After Wheater picked up an injury last week, West Ham loanee Reece Burke stepped into the defence. Mark Howard started after being rested in midweek, suggesting that Phil Parkinson is sticking with him as his first choice keeper. Darren Pratley came in for Josh Vela, whose injury news we wait for tentatively. The decision drew an audible sigh from LoV’s own Rob Latham, his fears would later be realised.
It’s often the subject of ridicule that Millwall win the family club of the year, but as the stadium slowly filled up as one of their employees ran round the away end taking names to take penalties on the pitch at half time. Their faces lit up and Bolton went on to win the shootout 3-2, so maybe the cockneys aren’t all bad.
Before the match, there was a special presentation for Roy Larner, who fought terrorists during the London Bridge attack saying ‘Fuck you I’m Millwall’ and other fans effected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Bolton fans had brought a banner to celebrate Larner’s heroism, only for stewards to take it down.
The first half was disappointing for both sides. Millwall failed to get in behind our defence as they squandered their chances. I get the impression that against one of the more clinical sides in this league we would have been battered in similar fashion to the opening day of the season. The Lions came close on multiple occasions, with a glancing free header going wide and a shot being blocked by Josh Cullen’s diving tackle in the penalty box. Reece Burke, who was playing through illness, got carded early in the afternoon for a reckless challenge but other than that he was a solid addition to the back three.
Whilst the whole team was hoofing the ball up to Gary Madine, Dorian Dervite was the guiltiest. It’s quite concerning that Adam Le Fondre, in my opinion the most talented player on the pitch, can barely get involved in a game against a fellow newly promoted side. The first, and I believe only, time a long pass to Madine gave ALF an opportunity to shoot was early in the match and the resulting half volley landed in the middle of the top teir of the south stand. Karacan was the only other Wanderers player to get a shot off, which was also high and wide.
In the first half there was no movement in the midfield, meaning that the ball was just passed from side to side until either lost it.
When the teams went in at half time, it was clear something had to change. Whilst no subs were made, the team came out visibly hungrier and there was energy in the team again. Crossovers on the wing didn’t end in everyone standing still and Karacan got back into the game, Cullen especially started to drive forward more.
Unfortunately, Millwall then went up the other end and scored. Saville’s shot deflected in off Mark Beevers, who was jeered throughout by the Millwall fans after having left them in 2016 and playing down rumours that Millwall were making a bid to buy him back.
Bolton made the first substitution as Filipe Morais came on for his first game ever in the Championship and the team looked immediately more dangerous. He ran at defenders and put Millwall on the back foot almost single handedly. After Andrew Taylor whipped in a ball across the box to no avail, Morais kept the ball alive and put it back across the six yard box to create Bolton’s most dangerous chance from open play in the match. He, of course, went on to score a beautiful free kick.
The game really then started to open up and it became much more lively. Adam Armstrong and Aaron Wilbraham came on for Madine and ALF and struggled, like their predecessors, to form a partnership. Armstrong ran at defenders and looked hungry, making Bolton look more threatening on the break despite nothing coming from it. I hope he starts games soon.
The defence started to play out from the back with purpose and we looked more secure, excluding some lapses in judgement from Dervite near the end. Beevers cleared a ball off the line after Howard was lobbed and threw himself in front of a shot at the death to secure the point.
Overall, it’s worrying that we have been starting our matches at half time and that we only look dangerous from set pieces. Whilst that may win us a scrappy few points here and there, it’s reliant on a robust defence and today it wasn’t that great. If not for individual moments of brilliance and a wasteful opposition, we could have come away with nothing.
On the bright side, 5 goals in three games and undefeated away from home, but there are problems we need to address. Some of these problems are tactical but some were brought on by injury, so let’s hope things fall into place at Birmingham.