Millwall 0-3 Fulham Six Things: slow and steady wins the race

Slav does smile sometimes… –

While Millwall played Friday night’s London derby like an Olympic sprinter, Fulham played it like a marathon runner: the latter came out on top thanks to second half goals from Ryan Sessegnon, Kevin McDonald and Aleksandar Mitrovic. Here’s six talking points from a 3-0 away win for the Whites.

Millwall’s high-tempo

Millwall pressed at a high-intensity early on, with George Saville quick to second balls. Their initial drive was best encapsulated by Shaun Williams’ crunching challenge on Tom Cairney, which started a swift attack down the flank. With right-sided pairing Jed Wallace and Mahlon Romeo making powerful runs, Fulham found it difficult to keep both quiet and after the duo won a corner, Jake Cooper escaped Denis Odoi’s attentions to head onto the bar. Because the Lions had two strikers on the field – Steve Morison and Lee Gregory – simple balls proved problematic for short centre-backs Odoi and Tim Ream, even if the latter cleared Wallace’s effort off the line, shortly after Saville had a goal ruled out.

Fulham’s control

The downside to having two strikers though was that Millwall at times got overrun by Fulham’s midfield trio, which became increasingly problematic. Tom Cairney and Kevin McDonald controlled play from deep, Lucas Piazon began to find pockets of space in behind Ben Marshall while Stefan Johansen looked for the killer balls into the final third. Matt Targett looked a threat from left-back and when Wallace failed to track his run midway through the first half, the Southampton loanee crossed for Alexandar Mitrovic to head off-target. While Millwall enjoyed goal-mouth action in the first half, there were signs that their visitors could take control.

Stealthy Sessegnon

Throughout the first half, Ryan Sessegnon had been absent from the creative process and perhaps that’s how he likes it: if opposing players aren’t constantly aware of him, how can they stop him when his big moment arrives? Mahlon Romeo became the stealthy teenager’s latest victim moments after the re-start, when Jordan Archer spilt Mitrovic’s stinging long-ranger and Sessegnon was quickest to the rebound.

Lions cave in

While the Lions high-octane football had seen them create the better first half chances, it needed unrealistic energy levels to sustain. The point at which midfielders Saville and Williams closed down became deeper as the match progressed and that allowed Fulham to take control without breaking sweat. McDonald was a central figure, so it was fitting that he eluded Saville’s desperate challenge with the coolness of a freestyler, before capitalizing on the resultant gap by firing home from distance. Archer again might be questioned for attempting to save with his left hand rather than his right, but the game was heading only one way.

Follow that Ream

The height difference meant Tim Ream wasn’t going to win his battles with Morison in the air, so he won the duel in a different way: by avoiding it in the first place. Because he was so confident in carrying the ball into the opposing half, Morison was forced back into areas where he didn’t want to go. If Ream provided a wonderful example of the modern, front-foot defender, he was upstaged on 89 minutes by substitute Tomas Kalas. The centre-back casually dribbled through the Millwall midfield unopposed to tee up Mitrovic for a third to send Fulham one-point short of second-place Cardiff. With consistent commitment to a modern ideology, Slav’s Whites look Premier League bound.

Challenge for Harris

This performance brings Millwall’s season into context. A combination of financial limitations and general culture dictates that success for the Lions requires a side that battles for one another all-game. Those methods have worked superbly for them this season, as they have built the most exciting team seen at the Den for years. However, tonight we perhaps saw a glimpse of the challenges that lie ahead for Neil Harris: for Millwall to remain competitive, he may need to adapt to the demands of a modernizing Championship whilst also staying true to the club’s core values.