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Millwall 1-1 Bournemouth
by Dan Nolan
at the Den
MILLWALL more than earned their point last night as they cancelled out Dominic Solanke’s strike with a smash-and-grab second-half goal.
But manager Gary Rowett was left rueing not taking all three, as his counterpart Scott Parker admitted that Bournemouth were “holding on for large parts of the second half.”
In his programme notes, Rowett said his side “have continued a bit of a trend of saving our best periods and moments in games for second halves.”
So it went on the night as Tom Bradshaw entered the game, flicked a header over the Bournemouth defence and put through Benik Afobe, who shot across keeper Mark Travers for a 66th-minute leveller.
The ex-Bournemouth man’s strike came after a period of pressure and spurred the hosts on to absolute dominance — Parker went on to admit that “there was only one team, towards the end, who were going to win the game.”
If the south Londoners were able to count on another strong second-half performance, their second-placed opposition could likewise have bet on Solanke making his way onto the scoresheet — his 15th of the Championship season.
Meeting Jack Stacey’s cross from the right of the 18-yard box, he jumped with Mason Bennett at the back post, headed the ball down and knocked home from close range on 44 minutes.
There was some controversy, however, as Solanke delivered a dig to Bennett’s back between the header and the strike itself, though the gravity of the push was surely accentuated by the size mismatch between the two. The home support would later make their thoughts on the incident known as the officials walked into the break to a chorus of boos.
It would mark the end of a first half that was otherwise short on attacking excitement. Solanke’s effort had been the only shot on target for either side, who each ploughed repetitive furrows: Millwall going long but failing to bypass a solid four-man backline, and the Cherries playing to feet down the right wing with Jamal Lowe running up against Murray Wallace’s brick wall.
The defensive-minded among the large away support would have enjoyed the sliding interceptions of Chris Mepham and Gary Cahill on slick turf in front of the North Stand, but even they had turned down the volume until Solanke struck into Bartosz Bialkowski’s bottom-left corner.
There was far more to cheer about for the Millwall fans after the break, however, as the Lions took the game by the scruff of the neck.
The introduction of Bradshaw and Sheyi Ojo signalled their attacking intent — the former assisting the goal just moments after the latter was introduced.
Billy Mitchell would then put the move of the match together all on his own, dancing past two defenders down the left wing and pushing towards the edge of the box before launching a shot across Travers that floated narrowly wide.
Further chances came when Wallace headed beyond the left post and George Saville skewed a central chance wide from just outside the Cherries’ 18-yard box, after a square ball from Afobe.
“ Bournemouth play with quite a high line, and we just felt our opportunities to try and exploit that ”
“What we’ve done in the second half is what we’ve done all season,” Rowett said after the relentless finish.
“We’ve shown a really good response, we’ve continued to do what we did first half — we’ve done it with a little bit more verve and energy and quality.
“We score a fabulous goal — I think Bournemouth play with quite a high line, and we just felt our opportunities to try and exploit that.”
Though he regretted taking a solitary point, Millwall will surely take heart in beating such high-flying opposition as they enter more eminently winnable games against Hull, Birmingham, Peterborough and Preston in the run-up to Christmas.
For his part, Parker hailed a “big point” that could only have grown in stature as league leaders Fulham were held at home by Derby.
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