Gary Rowett embraces positive change to end Millwall’s winless run



Just over an hour into an enthusiastic Championship tussle between Millwall and Cardiff City on Saturday afternoon, Lions’ manager Gary Rowett decided it was time for a change.

Tyler Burey, Benik Afobe and Scott Malone were all summoned from the bench in one foul swoop, and within 60 seconds Burey won a corner that Malone planted on to the head of earlier substitute Charlie Creswell and Millwall led a game for the first time in almost 400 minutes of football.

With the London club winless in four matches, and without a goal in three, ahead of their meeting with former favourite Steve Morison and his Bluebirds side in southeast London, supporters at the Den have been looking for something a bit different.

It has been relatively easy to know what to expect from Rowett’s Millwall across the three years he has spent at the club. They will be direct when in possession, organised yet aggressive out of it and a constant threat from set-pieces. Their 23 goals from dead-ball situations since the start of last season is the most of any team in the second tier.

It can often feel as though Rowett’s methods are symbiotic with the very nature of Millwall as a football club. The moniker ‘no one likes us, we don’t care’ is now associated with a collection of clubs but none more so than Millwall, and they have been successful playing a brand of football that is in your face and battle ready.

However, this season has started slowly. Despite a typically-Rowett Millwall opening day win against Stoke courtesy of two goals from corners, and a galvanising come-from-behind bullying of Coventry a fortnight later, Millwall lacked both imagination and inspiration in defeats to Norwich, Reading and Burnley over the previous 15 days.

Those defeats have contributed to a feeling that everything about this current Millwall side has become slightly stale. Centre-back Jake Cooper has struggled to reach his imperious best. Changes to the composition of the midfield have done little to provide a spark. And with Afobe without a goal since the final home game of last season, questions have been asked about what he is actually contributing to the team.


There was a palpable level of frustration around the Den early in the second half on Saturday as an enthusiastic first 45 minutes from Millwall was not rewarded with a goal and Cardiff’s patient passing began to take hold.

Morison and Cardiff have welcomed change since he replaced Mick McCarthy as manager in October 2021. After guiding the team to Championship survival playing a more expansive brand of football last season, a summer overhaul of the squad has allowed him to truly alter the way in which Cardiff operate on the field.

With 14 players departing and 17 being brought in, Cardiff have gone from averaging the sixth fewest 10+ pass sequences of any team in the Championship in the 2020/21 season to one that is firmly in the top ten for the statistic so far this term.

Against Millwall, summer arrival Ryan Allsop was a composed presence in goal as he regularly ignored the hostility of the opposition press to begin attacks. Perry Ng, formerly a flying full-back has been converted into a central defender in order to facilitate passing moves that start from the back. A midfield trio of Ryan Wintle and new signings Andy Rinomhota and Romaine Sawyers look far more comfortable in possession than they do scrapping for second balls.

After surviving the early Millwall onslaught, Cardiff found their rhythm. An intricate move saw Jadon Philogene flash a header just past the post. Allsop was instigating attacks with his ability to keep the ball under pressure. Sheyi Ojo somehow hit the woodwork from point-blank range moments before half-time.

Once new signing Callum Robinson had been introduced at the interval and fellow substitute Mark Harris had struck a post with a rasping effort not long after, it was the side from South Wales that appeared to be in the ascendency.

Then Rowett made his changes.

He had already tried to be different. It was not the case that it took the Millwall boss until an hour into Saturday’s game for him to realise that change might bring about an upturn in fortunes.

In the midweek defeat at Burnley, a midfielder was removed from the engine room in his favoured 5-3-2 formation to allow an extra forward player to be introduced in the shape of club-record signing Zian Flemming, and on Saturday, deadline day addition Callum Styles was thrown straight into the starting line-up.

Styles played a significant role in an energetic start to the game for the home side in which he and fellow wing-back Jamie Shackleton found plenty of joy in wide areas. For all Millwall’s vibrancy they still lacked the requisite composure to capitalise on their bright beginning, and Cardiff’s new playing methodology started to dominate.

But with Styles shifted into midfield to accommodate Malone on the left, and Flemming supported by the direct running and sheer physicality of Burey and Afobe in attack, it was Millwall and their raft of substitutes who made the breakthrough.

After the game, Rowett said that his changes had ‘maintained the energy in the game’ rather than altering it entirely, but the fact that his substitutes played such significant roles in the game’s defining moments means their impact is hard to understate.

Cresswell’s opening goal from Malone’s delivery possibly arrived too quickly to be able to credit the influence of the substitutions, but the involvement of the replacements is undeniable.

This new version of Cardiff had looked vulnerable from set-pieces for much of the afternoon, and once the Leeds United loanee had powered home his header from the corner, the control that they had begun to enjoy dissipated rapidly.

The ‘fresh legs’ that Rowett pinpointed post-match started to find spaces to venture into as the visitors wilted, and, fittingly, it was Afobe who benefitted from a Niels Nkonkou lapse in concentration to escape down the right and latch on to a long ball from Cresswell before cutting inside and delightfully clipping a shot over Allsop and into the net.

As Morison stood on the touchline in the final, academic moments of the contest, he was ironically serenaded by those that used to cheer him on such a regular basis, the frustration of the past two weeks melting away simultaneously. A clear indication that for as much as the action on the pitch may be in a state of flux, some things about Millwall will never change.

Follow us on Twitter @ProstInt 





Comments are closed.