No one could have left complaining that the FA Cup is no longer competitive. The 14,885 supporters there yesterday might have bemoaned other things: the quality, the fluency, the pitch, the weather, Millwall's finishing or Blackburn's ambition. But the commitment of the two sides to the contest was never in doubt.
These might be the two weakest teams left in the competition but they are both desperate to get to Wembley next month, where Wigan await the winners. They both played with different styles: Millwall wedded to their forthright but unimaginative attacking, Blackburn to their regimented disruption.
Neither side gave the other an inch, and referee Martin Atkinson could claim to have worked as hard as anyone. It would be a surprise if Wednesday night's replay was radically different.
The tense tone was set within less than 30 seconds. David Bentley, to whom the home fans certainly did not take, clattered into Dany N'Guessan on the touch line, and he took exception. The two players were firmly asked not to do so again. Rob Hulse's elbow collided with Scott Dann, below, meaning the Blackburn defender had to play most of the game with bandages around his forehead. This was by no means a unique incident.
"There were a lot of tackles flying around today, and a couple of cheap shots out there, which was disappointing," Blackburn manager Michael Appleton said afterwards. "There were a few arms flailing but we knew we would have to stand up to it."
Millwall manager Kenny Jackett did not quite agree – saying that he "did not see any cheap shots" from his players, and his midfielder Jack Smith said the same: "I didn't see any cheap shots – they seemed to fall over if you breathed on them."
Appleton was aggrieved, though, especially after Shane Lowry's bad tackle on Bentley early in the second half, for which he was booked. Rovers substitute Bradley Orr then went off with a suspected cracked rib and struggling to breathe after a fierce challenge with Danny Shittu.
Blackburn were not entirely innocent – both sides were over-enthusiastic in their tackling – and four Rovers players were booked to Millwall's three. There will not be many games this season with quite this many fouls. Millwall conceded 19 and Blackburn 14 as two sides – both lacking in form and confidence – struggled to find any rhythm.
There was hardly a single attack of any interest in the first 20 minutes of the match as the game descended into a seemingly random sequence of throw-ins, free-kicks and offside-flags – and little else.
Millwall, for understandable reasons, were more keen to win the game on the day and eventually the home side started to produce the better football and more chances.
Jackett had made five changes from their last game, a dismal 2-0 home defeat to struggling Wolverhampton Wanderers last Tuesday evening. But there was an improvement in their play, if not in the end product. Jack Smith and Liam Trotter, both providing purpose to Millwall's midfield, hit shots just wide half-way through the first half before the hosts had a goal disallowed. Hulse headed in Chris Taylor's corner at the far post but a foul on Blackburn goalkeeper Jake Kean cost Millwall the goal.
Five minutes before the interval Andy Keogh could have headed Millwall into the lead but he could only hit the inside of the post from Smith's cross.
It took Millwall 12 minutes of the second half to grow back into the game but twice more they nearly took the lead. Given an absence of options, centre-back Shittu thundered a dipping shot at goal from 45 yards, forcing Kean to dive and palm it over the bar. Two minutes later, a far more delicate move also ended in frustration. Smith played a smart pass out to Keogh on the right wing, who crossed quickly to Hulse. With clear sight of goal from close range, Hulse should have scored, but he volleyed the ball over the bar. Millwall never went as close again.
"Goalscoring has been a question throughout 2013," Jackett admitted afterwards. Millwall have not been the same side since they lost Chris Wood and Darius Henderson in the January transfer window.
"Today showed that when we do get on top of sides and put pressure on we need to score, so there is some frustration."
Blackburn had Jordan Rhodes and Leon Best up front with Nuno Gomes and David Goodwillie on the bench but Millwall do not have the as big a budget to spend on players.
"Goalscoring is an important part of the game," Jackett said. "It's key, and it's expensive, so we need to look inside and outside the club."
The visitors did not create nearly as much. Their best chance, 14 minutes from the end, came when Joshua King headed against the post after Dann had put Morten Gamst Pedersen's corner kick back into the box.
But Appleton is confident that his expensively assembled team will have a better time of it when they are at home on Wednesday night. "We've got a good chance to go through," said the Blackburn manager. "As long as we get a strong referee in the replay it won't be a problem."
Jackett was frustrated and knows it will not be so easy at Ewood Park. "It will change slightly," he admitted. "Our away form has been good, if you are looking for favourites it is close both ways, it might slightly be the home side – we will perhaps have to change."Reuse content