On a day when normalcy became popular again, Town’s return to a state of characterless, doddering ineptitude could not have been less welcome.
None of the style implemented by Corberán was on display and there wasn’t a single consolation to be found in probably the worst performance of the season against a disciplined, barely troubled Millwall side who are unlikely to gain 3 easier points on the road this campaign.
This was a game which needed to be won. There are plenty of excuses to reach out for but all of them should be dismissed and ignored. The injuries have been with the club for enough time to be mitigated, the London team took far greater advantage of the dreadful northern weather and bedding in new faces demands greater care of the ball than the slovenly, inattentive attitude which permeated a dreadful opening 10 minutes which led to an early concession.
Town were a little fortunate that the damage wasn’t even worse.
Though largely determined by player availability, Corberán’s pairing of Campbell and Ward fundamentally unbalanced a largely laughable attacking force and the complete absence of ideas in an unremittingly dreary second half spoke of a team drained of confidence and, perhaps, basic fitness.
To his credit, Ward had the only shot on target in the 90 minutes, which drew a decent save. The chance was one of three conjured in the only period of the game Town escaped the Lions’ shackles. The first saw Toffolo and O’Brien linking well down the left leading to a push on the latter and the award of a penalty which should have been the game’s turning point, coming just 10 minutes after Millwall’s opener.
Campbell, however, fired the spot kick too high and let the visitors off the hook while simultaneously subduing the struggling hosts, though an O’Brien burst through the middle created a glorious chance for Bacuna which the purple haired midfielder struck wide.
On the half hour, Toffolo and O’Brien created more danger down the left which allowed the full back to square to Ward who did well to swivel and force a save from Bialkowski.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, was that.
Millwall, who scented blood early in the game, held on to the lead they took in the 4th minute when an excellent ball in by McNamara found the inexplicably unmarked Malone inside the area and the Town old boy swept home.
The goal was the culmination of the visitors taking advantage of the Terriers hesitant and horribly imprecise play from the kick off; sluggishness which lasted a full 10 minutes and was hugely encouraging to the previously out of form Bermondsey outfit.
At their liveliest, for the 15 minutes up to the half hour, Town failed to take advantage of their brief period of dominance and the last hour of the contest was an increasingly turgid trek to deserved defeat.
To describe the second half display as pedestrian would be to imbue it with far more energy than it held. Lacking ideas, movement and any sign of individual moments which may have caused even the mildest of surprise to the opponents, Town stagnated alarmingly.
The merciful substitution of Ward on the hour brought no discernible change in attitude or fortune with Mbenza proving just as ineffective. The returning winger had zero impact though his anonymity may have been the inevitable result of Town implementing not a single change to how they were playing. Which was sideways, backwards and far too deep.
Throughout the evening, Town looked and played like a team completely overwhelmed by the problems which built up in the frantic schedule towards the end of 2020, and this includes the management team whose project has been upended.
The continuity which seemed to have delivered mid table stability has been usurped by chaos and mounting defeats, carrying none of the soothing consolations of earlier setbacks, and the threat of a debilitating spiral seems very real.
Sympathy for their plight is beginning to wane and will disappear if answers are not found. A home game against moderate opposition was the opportunity to reverse a decline which has hit hard and fast and the manner of the utter failure to grasp it was deeply worrying.
In particular, the Hogg shaped hole was inadequately filled by Vajello. The Spaniard, one of the few who came out with credit at Vicarage Road, could not provide the necessary energy or drive provided by the injured Teessider but was not helped by Bacuna or O’Brien for the most part and the collective failure of imagination throughout was depressing.
A Millwall second looked far more likely than a home equaliser and, indeed, they had a goal disallowed, rightly, following a corner. The offence against Schofield had been preceded by Pipa seemingly wrestling his opponent to the ground, unspotted by officials.
With the visitors mainly sitting deep to comfortably protect their lead, it is difficult to judge the performance of the newly arrived and already condemned Keogh, but he did little wrong. Apart from contributing to the decidedly uncertain start to the game, his central defensive partner Sarr was also largely blameless for the inactivity in front of him.
Many of the problems facing Corberán are not of his making. The inadequacies of the squad when shorn of certain individuals have been painfully exposed and applying band aids to gaping wounds deeply inadequate, but this is the hand he has been dealt and more effective solutions are needed.
The current points tally provides some breathing space but it is difficult to dispel the fear that a precipice is approaching. Campbell’s penalty miss may prove pivotal to Town’s fortunes this season and beyond; averting a deepening crisis must now be Corberán’s priority.