With a symmetrical record over the first 9 games, achieved along an eminently predictable bumpy path as a new coach attempts to impose a new and very different style of play, Town are looking like the epitome of a mid table side. Hurrah!
The big fat zero in the goal difference column also feels rather comforting.
The question now is not whether to look up or down, but how far forward? With the prospect of a stable season played out in highly unusual circumstances, and one which promises entertainment rather than sterility, there should be the luxury of time available to both Corberán and the Town hierarchy to build the foundations for a bright future.
A dynamic, defensively superb and ultimately dominant win over in form Millwall provided a huge boost after the disappointment of the previous two games where Town were unable to overcome the ultra pragmatism of Preston and the dismal functionality of Birmingham City. They got what they deserved in the former but left St Andrews rueing the naïveté of admirably chasing a winner after seemingly securing a point.
It was a major and eye brow raising surprise to see Corberán naming Diakhaby in the team to meet the Lions considering his deeply inept display on Wednesday night, though perhaps it was felt he had conserved enough energy not to be rotated.
Less surprising was Bacuna’s relegation to the bench, from whence many believe he will contribute far more effectively, as Corberán searches for a midfield blend which can apply his philosophies with greater consistency.
A torrid first 10 minutes saw Town pinned back and facing a series of corners. A free kick delivered from deep could have seen not one but two penalties awarded against the visitors with Schindler grappling dangerously with Cooper and, less convincingly, the ball striking Toffolo’s arm in the mêlée.
Once they settled, however, Town looked far more composed on the ball than Millwall and gradually imposed a control they regularly but too intermittently maintain in games.
The control started to bring threat, too. Koroma, lively throughout, had one decent effort routinely saved and then was unfortunate to see a goal bound effort brilliantly blocked after excellent build up play.
Town, and Koroma, were not to be denied for long, though. Starting with Hamer, who had another excellent outing, Town kept the ball for over a minute with every player involved in a 27 pass move which finally arrived at Diakhaby’s head on the edge of the box. Perhaps meant for Mbenza, the much maligned winger’s knock back fell for Koroma who didn’t strike it perfectly but well enough to tuck the ball in to the bottom corner.
The expected response from the home side eventually arrived for the final 10 minutes of the half, but other than a decent save from Hamer low down to his left just before half time, Millwall’s ascendancy never seemed particularly threatening. In between, Hogg and O’Brien, still rusty at times but getting there, controlled the middle third and Pritchard provided the spark which kept the Lions on the back foot.
A mostly solid first half ended on a sour note with an ankle injury to Pritchard, who had put in perhaps his best performance for Town for a long time and possibly ever. He was replaced by Bacuna at the break.
The return of Sarr from suspension proved to be significant. The ex-Charlton giant had a solid first half and nullified Millwall’s aerial threat while contributing to the possession which established control. He was to be even better in the second half.
For their part, the home side, under instruction from the isolated Rowett watching on iFollow, sent on Town’s old nemesis Matt Smith, so often a scourge of Terriers’ defenders since his days at Leeds.
A more direct route to goal was clearly signalled, perhaps recognising that their play maker Wallace had been pushed further and further back in the midfield battle, and Sarr and Schindler proved up to the task. Smith was not helped by a reluctance of his colleagues to anticipate any duels he did win, while service to him from the flanks was perfunctory at best.
Town soaked up Millwall’s threat with some ease and, once on the ball, probed and tested the home defence and should have wrapped up the game far earlier than they did.
Diakhaby nearly capped a much improved performance with a shot which went just wide, Koroma couldn’t exert enough power to convert after excellent work on the right by Mbenza whose shot was well saved but picked up by Duhaney to feed Koroma’s attempt.
The visitors looked far the more likely to score, had the greater composure in possession and defence and, crucially, were maintaining their superiority for longer than in recent games.
Pipa, who had played every minute of every other fixture, replaced Diakhaby to join Toffolo on the left in a successful attempt to quell Romeo and prevent balls in to the box from the hosts’ right flank. Jazzie B’s son never really threatened to bring Millwall back to life, but his pace was occasionally troubling.
The Spaniard, released by Bacuna who had created space with some excellent skill, burst forward in the final minutes and hit a hard shot at Bialkowski in the Millwall goal. Parrying the ball upwards, the Pole was unable to clear the bar and while to the naked eye it didn’t appear to cross the line as it looked behind him, the referee’s watch buzzed to signal that it had.
With the game all but over, a slightly over hit pass by Schindler saw Hogg stretch to propel it forward towards the half way line. Substitute Campbell nicked the ball just before it reached Cooper to set Bacuna driving towards Millwall’s depleted rear guard. With Koroma and O’Brien as company, Bacuna laid the ball to his right for the latter to slot past Bialkowski to put a gloss on a fine away performance.
Thoroughly deserved and featuring some fine individual displays, the 3 points dispelled the gloom of a week featuring 2 weeks and a video of some buildings on Leeds Road. With two tricky but winnable home games on the horizon, Town have the opportunity to cement their newly found mid table status before the next international break; time which Corberán will undoubtedly utilise to drive improvement in to a team with plenty of room to grow.