The scene outside the away dressing room at The Den told its own story.
As Sheffield United’s unused substitutes waited solemnly in the tunnel, wearing hangdog expressions and surrounded by the detritus of a Championship game, Chris Wilder could be heard raging at those who had taken part behind a door that remained locked for nearly three quarters of an hour.
When it finally opened, and he emerged to share his thoughts with members of the press, the words were slightly more tempered. But the United manager was still visibly fuming, describing this defeat to opponents previously without a win in six outings as fully deserved and a symptomatic of a team who thought, despite being briefed on how to beat Millwall, they knew best.
“I told the players what to expect when we came here and, possibly, they had their headphones on when I was speaking,” Wilder said.
“I’m not too happy with that. We didn’t deserve anything. They were far more effective and deserved the result. We weren’t an effective football team.”
Neil Harris’ side, who took the lead through Lee Gregory before Mahlon Romeo and Jake Cooper responded to David Brooks’ strike, out-battled and out-hustled the visitors for long periods of the contest.
In short, they did to United what United usually do to their adversaries. Spells of pressure were applied and opportunities created but, the Wales international’s finish apart, went begging. The hosts, by contrast, were ruthless, cold-blooded and spiteful.
“I’ve got my ideas about what happened but I’ll keep those to myself,” Wilder added, before pointedly doing anything of the sort.
“I think we’ve got ahead of ourselves a little bit. I haven’t, I know how tough this division is. But sometimes players get a little bit ahead of themselves.
“How many big headers, how many big tackles did we make? When we play positive football, we don’t get out-muscled or out-fought. And, I thought that did happen to us today.”
A tale of two men
United, who slip to fourth in the table ahead after taking just a point from their last three outings, fell behind when Gregory fired the hosts into an early lead.
The centre-forward, playing against the club were he started his career, had already served notice of the threat he would pose after combining well with Steve Morison only to be crowded-out as he primed to shoot.
It was a warning United, who recalled Brooks and Richard Stearman in an attempt to exploit Millwall’s match strategy, inexplicably failed to heed.
With George Saville orchestrating the midfield and Shane Ferguson providing a tenacious foil to the Northern Ireland international’s creativity, Morison and Gregory caused United all manner of problems, with the latter stripping Jack O’Connell of possession before releasing Romeo as Harris’ men regained the lead.
“We’ve got ourselves back into the game with a fantastic goal and then dominated the first part of the second-half,” Wilder continued.
“Then, my centre-half, who I’ve got to say has been excellent all season, gets caught bringing the ball out and running forward so we’ve got done on the counter attack.”
“Whatever style teams play, that’s fine,” he added. “I’ll never be critical of that because teams have got ways they want to play and managers have got ways they want to play.
“Millwall have a way and we couldn’t handle it. We didn’t handle their front two as well as we should have done.
“When we broke it up, we weren’t effective going the other way. That’s two parts of the game where we haven’t done enough. And you see what happens.”
A missed opportunity
As Wilder acknowledged, United appeared to have wrestled control of the contest after Brooks’ equaliser, only to relinquish their grip following a moment of reckless extravagance.
The youngster’s goal, his second of the season, was expertly crafted by Mark Duffy, whose lofted pass wrong-footed Millwall’s defence before being converted, from the tightest of angles, at the far post.
Brooks later admitted his finish was a shade fortuitous - “It was a sort of cross-cum-shot” - but Wilder’s assessment of events was otherwise correct.
Having edged themselves in front when Morison enabled Gregory to peel away from his marker, Romeo found himself in the clear when O’Connell was caught-out and Enda Stevens proved unable to intercept the resulting through ball.
Cooper headed home during the closing stages as Millwall climbed to 17th. United goalkeeper Jamal Blackman was left hopelessly exposed on all three occasions but had earlier produced a fine save to deny Saville from close-range.
John Lundstram, again deputising for the injured Paul Coutts, distributed the ball well and saw a long-range attempt cannon back off Brooks after engineering himself into position on the edge of the box.
Unlike those tasked with attacking the series of centres Chris Basham and Stevens whipped across Millwall’s six yard box without reward.
“We put five crosses across the box in the first-half and nobody bust a gut to get on them,” Wilder, perhaps ruing his decision to name Billy Sharp on the bench, said.
“Somebody should. Then, in the second, we kept hitting the first man. We’ve not done enough and that, for me, doesn’t represent what we are all about.”