Millwall 3 - 1 Cardiff. Comment

Last updated : 14 April 2024 By Paul Evans

It must have been during one of City’s relegation fighting seasons in the early to mid seventies that I formed one of the beliefs which I have carried through my football supporting life. If your team is in a promotion or relegation battle, the best sort of sides you can face in the closing games of the season are ones that are in mid table with nothing to play for as they will not have the same stomach for the fight as you.


That’s a view I have held for half a century or more, an awful lot of football has been played in that time and I wonder if it proves my theory right? It needs some student somewhere to do a dissertation on the subject to do that – that’s not too much to ask is it?

Mind you, if that student chose the Championship in 2023/24 as the basis for his or her essay, Lord knows what conclusions they would draw! Using Blackburn Rovers as an example, the struggling Lancashire club travelled to Bristol City in midweek to face a team with no chance of going up or down and got trounced 5-0. This looked like a really significant result at the time because Blackburn now faced three matches against promotion chasing sides and one against a fellow struggler to close their season. In the first of those matches today, Blackburn travelled to third placed Leeds, who were defending an unbeaten home record, and won 1-0!

However, you can look much closer to home to find another team that are doing their best to make it so hard to come to any conclusions as to the accuracy of my theory. Cardiff City are another club whose season is over to all intents and purposes – while a top ten or top half finish would be nice, is anyone, bar Erol Bulut and Vincent Tan perhaps, really too bothered about where in the middle third of the table we finish?

Yet, City went to relegation haunted Birmingham on Wednesday and really put in a shift as they had to absorb a lot of pressure at times and battle hard to secure a 1-0 win which was probably just about deserved in the end. It was not a Bristol City v Blackburn type romp, but I would argue that it was more merit worthy in a way because of the sort of challenges City faced in what was a typically tight modern day Championship encounter.

So, you would have thought that it would be more of the same today from the team for the trip to the New Den to face a Millwall team that has been down near the bottom all season and had looked to be in real trouble before beating Leicester in midweek because they’d lost successive games at Huddersfield and Rotherham.

However, the Cardiff team that rubbished my theory on Wednesday did their best to confirm it today. This was classic on the beach already stuff as they performed in a way which was the epitome of couldn’t care less football.

In the first half of today’s match it was a decent watch, City aren’t a long ball team anymore and they’ve spent most of this season proving that, while also showing that they do not possess the requisite skills to have made the transition a wholly successful one. Therefore, with the creativity from open play needed for a truly effective passing side to prosper largely absent, the advance up the table under Erol Bulut has been achieved in attritional fashion with a large reliance on set piece goals – I believe that a passing approach is intrinsically an attractive way of playing the game, City’s passing football in 23/24 has proved that belief to be questionable at best.

Today though, on a bright sunny day of the type we should see quite often as the season comes to an end, but hadn’t this time around until now, City and Millwall played some decent stuff and it seemed to me that we had an edge when we moved the ball with the same purpose we showed at times on Wednesday.

It’s as if City have been able to show that, when the pressure is off somewhat, they aren’t quite as bad passers of the ball as people like me say they are. The one change made from Wednesday saw Rubin Colwill taking over from Aaron Ramsey whose season is presumably over after his hamstring injury in midweek – if it is, then, sadly, the gamble we took on him (and it was a gamble) failed in the first of the two seasons he’s contracted for and, as of now, there must be some doubt as to whether he’ll see out them both.

Colwill was very good on Wednesday, he was the game changer for me and for a while he threatened to do something similar today, but in the end, he was a barometer for his team as he faded from the picture in the second half and it was no surprise to see him substituted.

Millwall made a bright start and took the lead through Michael Obafemi when the on loan from Burnley striker was played through a square looking defence and shot powerfully past Ethan Horvarth who was beaten too easily on his near post.

City spent the next quarter of an hour looking like they could get back in the game and they duly did when Colwill’s free kick was headed in at the far post by Yakou Meite for only his second goal for the club – once again, I felt the goalkeeper, in this case Matija Sarkic, could have done better.

City looked like the team with more poise, but a big turning point in the game came when Nat Phillips was given time to take aim from twelve yards, but dragged his shot wide. Millwall turned the screw after that and four minutes added time helped them force City on to the back foot. Ironically, it looked like we may have the chance to break out and counter attack effectively at one time, but Colwill gave the ball away cheaply. It was a careless mistake, but he deserved better than to be left as the only defender we had out on the left as Millwall broke down that side and the unmarked Jake Cooper half volleyed in from beyond the far post from the resultant cross.

Although no one realised it at the time, the game had now changed. For years Millwall and City were challengers for the title of most physical side in the Championship, on today’s evidence both sides have changed somewhat since then, but Millwall definitely won the physical battle today.

Particularly after the break, City didn’t fancy the physical side of things – they were enjoying the weather which had them thinking about their holidays too much.

Joe Ralls forced Sarkic into a diving save with a well struck shot from thirty yards and it was encouraging to see Cian Ashford, being used on the left after his league debut as a right sided attacker on Wednesday, go on the outside and cross with his left foot only for the ball to be hacked away before another sub, Ollie Tanner could shoot – mind you, given the slipshod way Tanner performed while he was on today, he would have found a way to miss what would have been a simple chance anyway.

However, these were isolated eceptions to a trend which saw Millwall firmly in the ascendancy fo the second forty five minutes. Horvarth made a couple of good saves to keep his team in it, but he was beaten again in added time when sub Duncan Whatmore, looking so offside that he must have been onside, scored an easy third.

This seems a good place to mention that while there have clearly been areas where City have improved (you don’t go from bottom third to middle third in the Championship without doing that), defending isn’t one of them in my opinion – Cedric Kipre’s replacement Dimi Goutas is finishing the season in erratic fashion.

A last word on the attitudes of sides at either end of the table In the closing weeks of a season – Bimingham, who looked on their way down after losing to mid table City three days ago, today gave Play Off chasing Coventry their heaviest defeat of the campaign as the FA Cup Semi Finalists went down 3-0

Another win for the under 21s today at Leckwith when a late goal by Dan Ola helped them to a 2-1 win over Peterborough after Trey George had given them a first half lead.