Millwall 1-2 Bristol City Six Things: Robins keep Play-Off hopes alive

Diedhiou bags the winner –

Bristol City came from behind to win 2-1 at The Den on Tuesday night, as goals from Jamie Paterson and Famara Diedhiou overturned Lee Gregory’s opener to keep their Play-Off hopes alive. Here’s our Six Things from the game.

Tight first half

Millwall’s problem for much of the first half was that they had too big a gap between their midfield and the strikers, Lee Gregory and Steve Morison. Although the latter won a few cushioned headers, the intensity to his game was not quite at the level we have seen over the previous three seasons and that meant Gregory was often the one spearheading – at times even carrying – the home side’s attacks. Gregory though is not a natural target man and thus the Lions often played shorter, in a way that did not quite suit their skillsets, as Bristol City threatened in flashes through Paterson. Although, Millwall did strike against the run of play on 41 minutes, when Jake Cooper’s pin-point left-footed diagonal found Morison, who glanced across for Gregory to strike inside the left-hand post with an improvised effort.

O’Leary saves

Morison and Gregory again combined midway through the second period; ‘Moro’ nodded down for Gregory to pounce and the ex-Halifax striker was tripped by Max O’Leary. The young goalkeeper though, unlucky arguably to be dropped against Derby, redeemed himself with a penalty save from Shaun Williams that would prove pivotal. Although Millwall created a high-quality of chances – Cooper hit the woodwork with a header and Tunnicliffe was denied by the feet of O’Leary on the break – the volume of their opportunities was relatively low.

Palmer’s impact

In the first half, Marlon Pack was the man carrying Bristol City’s midfield with Liam Walsh, having been affected by injuries early in his career, understandably looking slightly tentative, only willing to accept the ball in oceans of space. Half-time replacement Kasey Palmer though made a difference; he was braver on the ball and his willingness to rotate number 10 duties with Jamie Paterson added to Bristol City’s unpredictability. After right-back Eros Pisano was replaced by striker Matt Taylor, Lee Johnson deployed what could be described as a 3-1-4-2; with Pack sitting and one of the centre-backs – Adam Webster or Lloyd Kelly – pushing up to support him in midfield. Because the Robins had the flexibility to sustain pressure in so many different areas, it was impossible for Millwall to get up the pitch and play any diagonals into Morison or substitute Tom Elliott.

Paterson produces

The former Forest forward was a threat all evening with his clever runs in between lines, but in the final half-hour he added product to his promise. Paterson delivered an excellent free-kick on 76 minutes to level the scores, then skipped between units to pick out Famara Diedhiou, who fired past Dave Martin from an acute angle with nine to play. The selfless Andreas Weimann could have added a third on the break late on, but for a last-ditch block from the impressive Cooper. The victory was ultimately deserved for Bristol City, who enjoyed territorial advantages for much of the contest, even if it took them until the final half hour to go up another level in those advanced areas.

Tough summer for Millwall

Lions chairman John Berylson credited Neil Harris and his management team in his programme notes for securing second-tier football for a third consecutive campaign; setting the wisely conservative target ‘to build and improve’  for 2019-20. The mood among Lions fans though did not necessarily imply satisfaction with safety, alone, but one would have to wonder exactly how much further they can go without investment. Set piece specialism has been their trump card over the last three seasons but with Morison declining and Cooper likely to get attractive offers, Harris will need to find replacements to maintain that blueprint – unless Ben Thompson stays to recover full fitness, in which case floor-based counter-attacks could be an option. Dynamic midfielder Ryan Tunnicliffe and rampaging right-back Mahlon Romeo could enjoy positive campaigns next year; but the position some fans aspire to and the position most realistic based on the budget available are not necessarily the same.

Bristol City have a shot

Bristol City’s victory means that, if Derby fail to beat Swansea on Wednesday night, they can go into the final day of a Championship campaign with a mathematical chance of promotion for the first time since 2007-08 under Gary Johnson – when they lost 1-0 to Hull in the Play-Off Final. It is unlikely, because Derby and Middlesbrough can rule them out with any victory in a combined three games, so this performance is just as important in terms of building confidence for next season. The Robins have managerial stability, a strong infrastructure and a very well-coached team with a lot more adaptability than we saw in their first three seasons at this level. It is difficult not to look at Bristol City and see a club getting ever closer to Premier League football – even if that jump does not happen in 2019.