Millwall 0-0 Blackburn

Rovers emerge from Lions' Den with draw

March 10, 2013
By Miguel Delaney, The Den

Not so much the magic of the cup, then, but the malice.

Scott Dann bandage battle Blackburn v Millwall
GettyImagesScott Dann was left with a bandaged head to show from a physical encounter at The Den

Indeed, there were a few elements that reflected and revealed exactly the kind of contest - in the very literal meaning of the word - this fixture between Millwall and Blackburn Rovers was.

After 22 minutes, we had seen more aggressively-swung elbows than shots on goal. After 45, one player was wearing a bandage around his head. And, throughout, the defining image was bodies crashing to the ground rather than passes being played.

Indeed, the curious situation of Bradley Orr summed it all up. The defender came on after 36 minutes and, in a match that was already characterised by physicality, attempted to mark his territory with a strong challenge. It only left Orr himself limping, though, and he had to come off within 12 minutes.

That was one of three injuries Blackburn Rovers manager Michael Appleton had to contend with and, if they summed it all up, he said it all afterwards.

"We knew we had to be competitive today. It was physical," he said. "I think if I was asked before the game, we would have wanted to win. The way the game panned out, the amount of changes due to injuries, we've got to be delighted with the way players stood up to it. There were a lot of tackles flying around, a couple of cheap shots there."

Strong enough words. One shot that most certainly not cheap, though, was the stand-out moment of the game: Danny Shittu's 56th-minute lightning clap from 45 yards. It was an effort that would have lifted any game, let alone one so industrial, but it would have felt particularly appropriate in this case. Shittu's shot, after all, was a sheer act of brutality.

If all of that ensured this wasn't necessarily the most enticing match, though, there was certainly something to be appreciated - and even admired - in the sheer edge and competitiveness of it. No-one watching at The Den could say the FA Cup didn't mean something, no-one could doubt the vigour of the competition. In that, there was a compelling, if not necessarily refreshing, defiance and desperation to the game.

Of course, that's also because there was more at stake for these teams than just a place in the semi-finals and a trip to Wembley. Ultimately, both were fighting to save their seasons. Two dreadful runs of form have left both sides consigned to the dredge of mid-table. This offered a last - or, perhaps given it's gone to a replay, penultimate - chance to make the season meaningful.

As a consequence, the blunt competitiveness of this game was inevitable. So too, though, was the 0-0.

The fact that Millwall have lost seven of their last eight and that Blackburn Rovers have not picked up a single point since the elimination of Arsenal in the fifth round was evident in almost every facet of this game.

"Goalscoring has been a problem for us," Millwall manager Kenny Jackett admitted with the bluntness of a Shane Lowry challenge. "We had an outstanding 2012 but today showed, when we do get on top of sides and put pressure on to create chancs, we need to score. We had a lot of balls into the box that didn't quite fall. Goalscoring is an obvious one, such an important part of the game. It's a key, it's expensive. It's something inside and outside the club we need to find."

It does beg the question of why Millwall ended almost every attack with a high ball into a target-man that they didn't actually possess. Other than an Andy Keogh diving header against the post, Blackburn dealt with such aerial challenges with relative ease.

Appleton did, of course, have a focal point of his own, with the freescoring Jordan Rhodes. Given what kind of game this was, though, it was no surprise that he suffered a stutter.

Indeed, every passage of play was the same. Any time a passing move started to build or a more open sequence of football looked on, it was brought to a jarring halt by a coarse challenge or high ball. The match seemed to rarely more than 20 seconds without a stoppage. The ball seemed to spend the majority of time in the air.

Both teams will console themselves, though, with the fact that the tie also remains in the air.

"I think the game on Wednesday's going to be different," Appleton insisted. Most will be hoping that's the case.

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