MATCH VERDICT: Frustration reigns: Wanderers 1 Millwall 1
DOUGIE Freedman’s mystery men continue to float in no-man’s-land hoping that something – anything – can give this season some identity.
Frustration is seeping from every pore of the Reebok at present, and with the play-offs now further away than the bottom three, Wanderers are drifting rather aimlessly into Tuesday’s FA Cup replay at Sunderland.
A shock result at the Stadium of Light might yet give the long-suffering fans something to smile about, or perhaps even coax a little consistency, but, to most of us, it is looking increasingly like Freedman’s side will not be in the promotion mix, come what May!
Millwall are up there fighting, despite the class gap there appeared to be on paper when the team-sheets were handed out at 2.20pm.
In short spells Wanderers managed to make that quality count. Chung-Yong Lee showed glimpses of his best before the break, while Marcos Alonso and Sam Ricketts were both in good form on the flanks.
But in the main, the Whites allowed themselves to be dragged into a battle. Jay Spearing doesn’t turn down that kind of invitation and was again outstanding in midfield, but Millwall are well versed at this kind of away trip and used every trick in the book to unsettle, waste time, and keep hold of a precious point.
Thankfully, all the worry about the travelling fans and their reaction to Marvin Sordell proved to be a storm in a tea cup.
There were plenty of songs aimed at the Wanderers striker, who is persona non grata around Cold Blow Lane for reporting to police abuse he suffered at The Den back in October, and then taking the argument further on Twitter.
It was just banter, however, and the striker very nearly exacted some revenge in the closing stages with a bright cameo off the bench.
It took barely seven minutes for any lasting encouragement from the previous weekend’s cup performance against Sunderland to wither away, when Millwall were gifted a penalty by some dire defending.
Tim Ream played a risky ball on the edge of his own box to Keith Andrews, and, with the Irishman on his heels, Liam Trotter nipped in to feed Andy Keogh, who was then tripped by Zat Knight’s frantic attempt at a tackle.
As the finger- pointing continued along the Wanderers back line, former Bury loanee Keogh was producing a confident chip from the spot to give his side the lead.
For a while, it looked like getting even worse for the Whites. Trotter and James Henry whizzed shots just wide of Bogdan’s goal, while efforts to get anything going at the other end proved completely fruitless.
It seemed the harder Chris Eagles tried to kickstart his own game, the worse it got for the former Burnley man, whose run of free-scoring earlier in the season now seems a million miles away.
David Ngog and Andrews were having similar problems – but the latter got a chance to dig himself out of trouble when Chung-Yong drew a clumsy challenge out of former Wanderer Danny Shittu to prompt ref Alan Clayton to point to the spot for a second time.
Andrews is nothing but assured from 12 yards and despatched his fourth penalty in four attempts past Tony Forde to give his side a welcome boost.
By the start of the second half, the Whites were well on top.
Ref Clayton looked to have missed a third penalty when Shittu appeared to handle Andrews’ effort, but the shots continued to rain in, with Kevin Davies, Eagles and Ngog all going close to the target.
It went quiet for 10 minutes, but for a let-off when N’Guessan could only get his studs to Henry’s cross from the right with the goal gaping.
That prompted Freedman into action from the bench, although many fans took issue with his decision to send on Benik Afobe for Chung-Yong.
Sordell’s entrance for Eagles on 80 minutes was better received, at least on three sides of the ground, and with the atmosphere suddenly revived, so were Wanderers.
Forde turned away a cracking shot from Alonso before N’Guessan somehow cleared Davies’s header off the line.
Sordell then slashed a shot narrowly wide to ruin a story you would have struggled to retell in 140 characters.
Had one of those late efforts produced a second goal then the mood of fans heading back out into the cold Horwich night would have been significantly better.
Instead, it was a familiar feeling of disgruntlement, particularly if you also noticed that Watford had stretched the gap to the play-offs into double figures for the first time this season.
An insurmountable gap? Not on paper. But to suggest that Wanderers can find the kind of consistency in their results to end up with 70-plus points in May requires some leap of faith, especially as Freedman’s reign so far has seen him take 18 points out of a possible 42 with four wins, six draws and four defeats.
It is looking more and more likely that the Wanderers boss is building for next season in the Championship this January transfer window – and that Martin Petrov may not be the last remnant of the Premier League era that heads for the exit door.
How I long to be proved wrong.