Birmingham City were denied a served victory by an injury time penalty from Millwall’s Benik Afobe. Blues had turned in a performance that was night and day from their display at Blackpool on Easter Monday.
Callow at Bloomfield Road they battled for everything against the play-off hopefuls and were on the brink of a 2-1 victory after second half goals from Juninho Bacuna and a Lyle Taylor spot-kick.
However, with the game deep into added time the Lions were awarded a penalty after Jake Cooper hit the ground following a long-throw in. Former Wolves man Afobe stepped up and gave his side a point that could be vital in their chase for the top six.
Lee Bowyer made six changes to the team which was so heavily beaten at Blackpool, with Neil Etheridge, George Friend, Jeremie Bela, Bacuna, Gary Gardner and Maxime Colin back in the starting line-up.
Blues shaded the first half and will feel they should have gone in at least a goal up after twice hitting the goal-frame.
The first occasion was after just two minutes when Onel Hernandez, deployed further forward, won a free kick 25 yards from goal. Gardner stood over the ball and smacked a curling effort off the outside of the upright.
Bacuna had a couple of left-footed attempts which flew just past the post and came even closer to breaking the deadlock just before the break. Hernandez turned and drove at the heart of the Millwall defence, freeing Bacuna who, just to the right of goal, smacked a rising, first time shot off the bar.
George Friend also headed a Bacuna corner well wide after avoiding his marker midway through the period.
Millwall’s only real chance of the opening 45 came in the 34th minute when Murray Wallace shot through a crowd of defenders and Etheridge pushed it away from goal. Shaun Hutchinson returned the rebound where Ivan Sunjic headed off the line.
Blues deservedly went ahead two minutes after the restart when Bacuna played a ball into the visitors’ box. Hernandez never gave up and forced mistakes out of two defenders, with Hutchinson’s weak clearance going straight to Bacuna. The 24-year-old lashed home for his second goal for the club.
That prompted a response from Gary Rowett’s men and they had several chances to equalize. Two fell to Tom Bradhsaw who tested Etheridge at his near post soon after Bacuna’s strike. Just before the hour he hooked a shot over his shoulder only for the Blues keeper to pluck out of the air.
The leveler came midway through the period when Mason Bennett’s deep cross was headed back across goal by Danny McNamara where Oliver Burke rammed home from close range.
At that point it looked as though the Londoners would go on to win the game. That was until Blues won a free kick on the right and George Saville wrestled Taylor to the floor. Referee Leigh Doughty took a brief break from waving his yellow card around and awarded the hosts a penalty.
Taylor did his customary stroll up to the ball and stroked it home, low to the goalkeeper’s right.
Hernandez should have made the points safe in injury time when Bacuna played him into the area but he fell over as he tried to go around Bartosz Bialkowski.
Then well into six minutes of added time Doughty saw enough when Cooper hit deck and gave Afobe the chance to snatch a draw.
Produced a really good save to deny Wallace in the first half and was strong at his near post to repel Bradshaw in the second. Decisive in set piece situations, he made such a difference and almost stopped Burke’s drive for the equaliser.
Looked much more settled. He played his part of it in a back-line that kept Benik Afobe quiet and just about kept the door closed on Tom Bradshaw.
Swept up well when it looked like Bradshaw had got in behind Colin. Booked early in the second half for bringing down Burke in a wide position-he did well not to pick up another yellow as he chased Mason Bennett back late on. A solid display.
Should have hit the target with his header from Bacuna’s corner but attacked everything in the air. One loose pass into midfield caused problems but overall this was a good return to the team.
A conservative game in terms of attack but was careful in his defensive work. He made some important tackles and covering runs.
Brought a drive back to the midfield. He ran hard, won battles and used the ball reasonably well. A good effort from the skipper.
Rattled around midfield giving away free kicks, often losing possession but closed down well and in the right place to head clear Hutchinson’s drive. He probably deserved his booking just because of the sheer number of fouls he conceded.
Dropped back into defense when Blues didn’t have the ball. Not that involved in attack. His 100th appearance of him was a quiet one.
Fully deserved his goal, might have had two. An inventive and energetic display that underlined just how key he is going to be for Blues next season. Good delivery from set-pieces too.
Deployed in attack and caused Millwall problems from the first minute. Winning free kicks, unsettling defenders, getting Blues into the area. He chased a lost cause and created the goal for Bacuna. Brought a real spark to Blues’ attack.
Played most of the first hour with his back to goal but provided a focal point for his side. ,Almost caught Bialkowski off his guard with a long range drive early in second half. He won the battle of wills with the goalkeeper for his penalty. Nerves of steel.
Graham (for Bela 82) N/A
Not used: Trueman, James, Woods, Hogan, Deeney, Jutkiewicz
Millwall (3-4-2-1): Bialkowski; Ballard, Cooper, Hutchinson (Bennett63); McNamara (Leonard 87), Kieftenbeld, Saville, Wallace; Afobe, Burke; Bradshaw (Burey 80). Not used: Long, Ojo, Mitchell, Evans
Blues: Bacuna (47), Taylor (pen, 79)
Millwall: Burke (68), Afobe (pen 90+8)
Referee: Leigh Doughty
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.