Birmingham City 0-2 Millwall Player Ratings: Thompson stars

Ben Thompson celebrates with Jed Wallace www.millwallfc.co.uk (Credit: Billy Taylor)

A sturdy defensive display and a fine individual performance from Ben Thompson on Wednesday night saw Millwall improve their chances of staying in the Championship by recording a 2-0 away win against a Birmingham City side devoid of ideas. Here’s our Player Ratings from the game.

Birmingham City

Lee Camp – the seasoned stopper has steadily improved his performances since mid-January – and could have done little about the opener – but he might have been at fault for Millwall’s second goal, for which he let the ball roll under him. Conceded from the only two shots on target he faced. 4

Wes Harding – the academy graduate did not enjoy his best night; the standard of his crossing was poor and he was caught out of position defensively on more than one occasion. Maxime Colin’s return to the line-up may be welcomed. 4
Harlee Dean – the centre-back was guilty of backing off Thompson in the build-up to Millwall’s second. Although he went on a couple of driving runs, one of which led to an advanced free-kick, the quality of his passing left something to be desired. 5
Michael Morrison – a poor night. Caught too far up the pitch in the build-up to Millwall’s opener but, most significantly, he simply does not have the capacity to switch play and that was massively limiting for Birmingham in the first half, when midfielders had no space. Morrison deserves huge respect for what he has given to Blues over the last half a decade in terms of commitment and leadership – nobody can take that away from him – but, as Championship managers are increasingly looking towards younger, more technically capable centre-backs, his influence at this level is not quite what it was. 3
Kristian Pedersen – the Danish left-back produced another tenacious display here. His driving runs were key to Birmingham’s relatively bright start, although perhaps he could have initiated combination play with Mahoney more in the second period, when the opposition were sat deep. 6

Maikel Kieftenbeld – the Dutch destroyer charged about the pitch, but looked less like the imperious influence we have seen most weeks and, if we are being frank, more like a bit of a headless chicken. Did not show the presence of mind to keep hold of the ball and although this theme was not problematic in a high-intensity clash with Aston Villa, it was an issue in a more low key affair against deep-block opposition. 4
Gary Gardner – all season, Kieftenbeld has needed a midfield partner with the care and composure to look after the ball under pressure. Gardner did that to an extent at times and played a few accurate forward passes in the opposing half, but one might want him to be more of an influence in deeper areas. Struggled to master passes of more than 10 or 15 yards. 5

Kerim Mrabti – the winter recruit has so far looked like the type of player to produce the finishing touches at the end of moves, rather than be that main creative influence. Here, he was largely a peripheral figure because he did not impact the game in the early phases of play – but crucially, did not have the opportunities to get on the end of moves. 4
Connor Mahoney – the Bournemouth loanee was arguably Birmingham’s best player; he became the only one to put the ball in the net just after the interval, only to be ruled out for offside. Not only that, he showed quick feet in tight areas and produced a reasonable standard of deliveries. Deserves to keep his place. 7

Che Adams – Birmingham’s 21-goal top scorer is normally a real threat with his ability to run in behind, but here he did not quite have the space to do that due to the way Millwall set up. He still chased lost causes as usual and linked up nicely with Vassell early on, so it is difficult to blame him too much for a poor attacking performance; the main issues lie deeper. 6
Isaac Vassell – the fit again front-man’s main strength is his pace, but the nature of the contest meant he was asked to fulfil Lukas Jutkiewicz’s usual job of winning aerial duels from goal-kicks. Although Vassell attempted that role admirably to an extent, it is clearly not his natural game and there were no opportunities for him to build up ahead of steam in terms of intense sprints in behind – which we know he has in his locker. 5

Craig Gardner (on 45) – the midfielders introduction coincided with a brief increase in urgency in Birmingham’s play and Gardner had a decent second half, although whenever he received the ball anywhere near goal he very often got the rush of blood to shoot – he did come close on one or two occasions, even if sometimes the pass was the better option. 7
Jacques Maghoma (on 59) – the wide man has become accustomed to playing on the left and cutting inside, onto his right foot, but the space here was on the outside rather than the inside so Monk deployed him as a classic winger. Tried to run at Ferguson and won the odd corner, without truly influencing the team’s creative play. 5
Lukas Jutkiewicz (on 59) – the target man’s half-hour puts Garry Monk’s pre-match dilemma into context. On the one hand, Vassell is not a like-for-like replacement but on the other, Jutkiewicz appears to be affected by recent head injuries, with another coming after challenging for a header. Bravely played on after receiving treatment (with no more subs available) but was also understandably reluctant to attack crosses with quite the vigour that he can do – minimal impact but largely due to circumstances outside his control. 5

Millwall

David Martin – the former MK Dons goalkeeper was embroiled in a penalty appeal after four minutes, but suggestions he had tripped Vassell were waved away by the referee. That was about as busy as Martin’s night got, because his duties thereon, aside from dealing with the single shot on target he faced, were confined to taking time over goal-kicks and booting the ball into the final third to trigger the Millwall press, which he did at every opportunity. 6

Mahlon Romeo – the right-back was caught out once defensively by Pedersen in the opening exchanges – and perhaps that might have happened more frequently had the opposing left-back been braver. He won his duels with Mahoney in the sense that he stopped his direct opponent from getting in behind, but was unable to (or not instructed to) stop crosses coming in from deeper areas. Romeo adjusted steadily to a role that possibly limits his range of capabilities – we know he can make more contributions going forward if asked to. 6
Jake Cooper – the tall centre-back posed a threat from set pieces and long throws, as he has all season, but he did the basics well too. This was not a stereotypical Millwall centre-back performance from Cooper – he did not pick up a head bandage and a bloodied nose from the work he did – rather, the tame nature of opposition attacks meant it was more about him holding his ground and applying common sense. 7
Alex Pearce – Harris’ decision to play the ex-Reading man at centre-back, with Shaun Hutchinson available, has been questioned by some but Pearce produced a strong display here. With Morison out of the starting XI, he relished his role as captain by showing firm leadership qualities but, like Cooper, he did not have to over-exert himself as much as he might have expected. 8
Shane Ferguson – the versatile Northern Irishman performed well at left-back and had a hand in some of the good football that led to the second goal. Negated Mrabti’s influence in the first half, then kept Maghoma quiet in the closing stages in a steady display upon his return to St Andrews. 6

Ryan Leonard – when the former Southend man has played in a 4-4-2, he has lacked the willingness to press required to replicate George Saville’s role last season. It could be that he looks more comfortable in a 4-2-3-1, when other players link midfield and attack, enabling Leonard to do what he does best. Read defensive situations well and producing three tackles across the 90 minutes. 7
Ryan Tunnicliffe – the Manchester United academy graduate played perhaps a more glamorous against Birmingham at the Den last season, when he made a lot of runs into the box and bagged one of the goals. By contrast, his role in the most recent 2-0 win was perhaps slightly more circumspect; Tunnicliffe covered a lot of defensive ground in a disciplined display – even if his passing can improve. 6

Jed Wallace – the former Wolves man  has been utilized centrally more often this term, but perhaps his outstanding 2017-18 form showed that he is best used making direct runs down the right wing. He showed an echo of that in his role in the opener and, while  his link-up play with Romeo could do with polishing, Wallace put in a selfless shift in the defensive third. 6
Ben Thompson – acting as a number 10, Thompson was by far Millwall’s stand-out performer.  He bagged twice in the first half with two well-taken finishes, showing he can threaten on the counter-attack, but when the breakaway was not on he also showed excellent link-up play, retaining possession in the opposing half. Amid occasional depictions of Thompson as an archetypal Millwall battler, his technical ability can sometimes go under-appreciated – fully deserved all the recognition he got post-match. 9
Ben Marshall – the former Blackburn man’s best form has tended to come in a team that has a target man to augment a crossing game, so it will be interesting to see how he handles Millwall’s gravitation towards life without Morison starting every week. Did the basics well here but might wish he had found the target when handed an excellent one-on-one opportunity midway through the first half. 5

Lee Gregory – the stalwart took confidence from his goal at Bolton on Saturday but this was by no means an individualistic display from Gregory, who made a lot of selfless runs into the channels which allowed Thompson to pop up into goalscoring positions. Rather than getting on the end of knock-downs, as he tended to do when paired with Morison, he was instead the one making movements to help his teammates grab the headlines. 7

Steve Morison (on 66) – the long-serving target man has been so important to Millwall over the previous three seasons and, although not fit enough at 35 to sustain his impact for 90 minutes this term, he aided game management from the bench by holding the ball up expertly. On one occasion, he had his back to Harding – who should in theory be much quicker – then got to a more advanced position 20 yards beyond his opponent in one turn, which highlights how knowhow can sometimes trump pace. 7
James Meredith (on 84) – came on to further solidify Millwall’s defensive structure as Ferguson moved further forward. 6
Shaun Hutchinson (on 90) – defended well in the final few minutes, but could have his work cut out to break-up the Cooper and Pearce centre-back pairing. 6