Braveness was Gary Bowyer's buzzword, and Blackburn Rovers' interim manager can rest easy after all but securing his side's safety in England's second tier. On a night where his side showed their travelling support reasons to be concerned and cheerful for next season in equal measure, Jordan Rhodes' late penalty gave them a five-point advantage over the drop zone after trailing at half-time.
“The atmosphere put us under an enormous amount of pressure,” he said. “We struggled to cope with it for 20-25 minutes.
”I asked them to be brave at half-time. The talking point should be about how brave we were second half. They were all very good.“
Millwall manager Kenny Jackett will focus on the positives of an inconsistent season, despite not yet securing safety. A run of 13 games unbeaten had them plumped just outside the play-offs in early December, but momentum faded. If they survive, they seem as likely to be part of a play-off push next season as they do a relegation battle. They are five points clear of the drop zone with a game in hand.
”We started the game very well,“ said Jackett. ”But Blackburn came into the second half strongly, David Dunn was very influential.
“Once we made the two substitutions at 1-1 we got a foothold back in the game. With that foothold I didn't think we did enough to win the game.”
With this, Jackett pinpointed a trait in Millwall's second half to the season: pushing on late in games but lacking firepower to grab a winner.
But they went ahead after Mark Beevers' towering header fell to Karleigh Osborne, whose hooked shot crept in from 12 yards. Their early momentum fell in an uneasy first half. Dunn and David Jones both came close for Rovers with long-range efforts before half-time.
Jones' whipped corner found its way into Forde's net via Millwall striker Rob Hulse after the break, and the visitors began winning a midfield battle that was deadlocked in the first half.
The winner was coming. Danny Shittu halted Grant Hanley's 60-yard run inside the area, a stop Gavin Ward adjudged to be illegal. Millwall complained that Hanley had gone down too easy, and the situation worsened as Rovers players congratulated the defender. Rhodes sent Forde the wrong way for all three points.
“It looked a soft decision,” said Jackett of the penalty decision. “The referee got the assessment wrong.
”I was looking for the refereeing team to make the right call on it. It was obviously a crucial moment in the game.“
Bowyer hadn't seen the incident, and would not deter from praising his side.
”I don't think we should be talking about that as much as we should be talking about our second half performance,“ he said.
Shittu was given a second yellow card for an angry exchange with the referee after full-time to sour the atmosphere one more notch.
But for Bowyer's side, avoiding the mantle of being the first side since Swindon in 1995 to go from top flight to third tier in two years will be one of few consolations from a disastrous campaign on and off the pitch.
The question remains. Who could Rovers' owners persuade to take the job after what has gone before? The next permanent manager must focus on the fitness of a side that, on paper, looks a decent match to anyone in this division.
Millwall (4-4-2): Forde; Dunne, Shittu, Osborne, Beevers; Henry, Abdou, J Smith, Feeney (Keogh, 77); Hulse (Wright, 62), Easter (Batt, 62). Substitutes not used M Taylor, Malone, Saville, Woolford .
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Sandomierski; Kane, Dann, Hanley, Markus Olsson (King, h-t); Dunn (Orr, 90), Jones, Williamson, Morris; Kazim-Richards (Goodwillie, 16), Rhodes. Substitutes not used Usai, Pedersen, Murphy, Gomes.
Referee G Ward (Surrey).Reuse content