Wasteful Sheffield Wednesday seek to bounce back after Millwall setback
Some defeats hurt more than others.
No way should the Owls have left a loud and raucous Den empty-handed.
They were the better side when there were 22 players on the pitch, let alone 11 v 10. They played well in patches and enjoyed 70 per cent of possession following Jed Wallace's red card after a rash challenge on Kieran Lee. They had 21 shots at goal. Nine on target.
But Millwall scored against the run of play through Matt Smith, who netted for Queens Park Rangers in their final-day win at Hillsborough last season, and that gave them something to hold on to.
Caretaker boss Lee Bullen went for it with his substitutions in the second half, taking off both his full-backs off. Barry Bannan and Massimo Luongo were introduced to add more creativity and energy into their midfield and Jordan Rhodes partnered Steven Fletcher in attack for the final half and hour.
"I don't think we could have gone any more offensive," acknowledged Bullen. "We put Adam Reach to left-back and Sam Hutchinson to right-back.
"We put Baz [Barry Bannan] and [Massimo] Luongo on and kept the two wingers on and we went with two strikers up to."
It was one-way traffic.
Yet Millwall, a strong, physical outfit, withstood wave after wave of attacks. Neil Harris's men were well-drilled, defended deep and put men behind the ball. Centre-backs Alex Pearce and Jake Cooper starred, heading and kicking everything away to safety. Not only did the duo heroically put their bodies on the line, but goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski stepped up when required to frustrate the Owls.
The reality is Bialkowski was not forced into making a top drawer save throughout the contest. Jacob Murphy and Fletcher fired straight at him when well-placed and Bialkowski was equal to Bannan's left foot strike after good approach play on the left flank.
Wednesday lacked the imagination and quality to break down a resolute, stubborn Lions team. At no stage did you ever seriously think they were going to score.
They kept plugging away but there was a lack of composure in the final third. Their brightest creative spark was Kadeem Harris and they overly relied on him on the day to produce a moment of magic to unlock Millwall. Overall, the forward line's decision-making and execution of their skills was found wanting.
Yet Wednesday will know they could have won on another day.
"The lads gave everything they have got but we didn't get the breaks," argued Bullen. "We are going to play a lot worse in the Championship this year and win games.
"We have to take our medicine, brush ourselves down and get ready for Luton."
Was it an error in judgement not to select Fernando Forestieri at least on the bench? Hindsight, of course, is a wonderful thing and maybe Forestieri could have made a difference as an impact player.
But the Owls put themselves on the back foot by conceding a soft, sloppy goal from a set play in the 37th minute. Keiren Westwood misjudged the flight of Connor Mahoney's corner and Smith made them pay.
Wednesday knew all about Millwall's threat from dead ball situations but were powerless to stop Smith from scoring for the second weekend running.
Bullen said: "We made a mistake at a corner and we didn't take our opportunities when we had them."
It is fine margins in this league and, luckily for the Owls, they have an opportunity to quickly make amends on Tuesday night.