This was the game where Howe’s halo finally slipped, if only slightly, with
Burnley still well positioned in spite of this defeat going into the season run in. The game largely centred around Burnley’s attempts to break down Millwall’s shape, so it makes sense to look at their set up first.
Millwall lined up in a strict, narrow and compact 4-4-2. In defence they compressed the space extremely well and were disciplined in their shape keeping two rigid banks of four. Going forward it was ugly stuff with the ball hit long at every opportunity and the team pressing well as a unit for the second ball. Having probably anticipated this, Howe changed what had been a successful formula over recent games and opted for an orthodox 4-4-2 with Eagles and Wallace playing as conventional wingers (see below).
No doubt Howe had identified that width in the final third would be vital given Millwall’s strict shape but
Burnley struggled to get the ball out wide to either Wallace or Eagles in the opening period. The main reason for this was that the Claret’s movement was almost universally poor, with Marney, in particular, very static and looking reluctant to show for the short ball from the defence. This resulted in a lot of long balls, particularly from Carlisle who looked uncomfortable in possession. This played into Millwall’s hands; the Lion’s centre backs were hugely dominant with the ball in the air and their central midfield pairing of Mkandawire and Trotter out fought and Marney who struggled in what increasingly became a scrappy battle for second balls in the centre of the pitch. Cork
Conceding defeat, halfway through the first half Howe reverted back to 4-4-1-1 with Wallace switching to the right, Rodriguez dropping out to the left and Eagles taking up a central position behind Delfouneso. This gave
Burnley a numerical advantage in the middle meaning that they were finally able to get hold of the ball with Wallace in particular looking a threat but width remained at a premium. The fullbacks got up well but and Marney were too slow and disinclined to spread the play out wide meaning that Millwall found it easy to crowd out attacks. This had been a regular problem under Brian Laws but both Cork and Marney had looked to have improved this side of their play in recent games under Howe with the Burnley boss speaking often about ‘making the pitch big’ in post match interviews but given the collective intensity of Millwall’s pressing they struggled for the time and space to do so. This problem was further compounded by Eagles’ inability to find any space between the compact lines of Millwall’s defence with the playmaker looking frustrated. Cork
Burnley started the second half much better with Fox and Wallace instantly looking to switch the ball quickly from flank to flank but it was Millwall who got the goal through a set piece on 52 minutes and Burnley’s play deteriorated sharply once again. Howe made another roll of the dice soon after with Iwelumo coming on for the struggling Eagles and Elliott for the isolated Delfouneso. This meant switching back to an orthodox 4-4-2 but with Iwelumo on the pitch Burnley were set up to play much more directly. The idea would have been for Iwelumo to give Burnley a platform in the final third to work the ball out wide from and then back in for the Scot who has been so deadly this season from crosses but even the power of Iwelumo wasn’t enough to unsettle Ward and goalscorer Robinson who were imperious and Burnley began to look short of ideas.
Given Millwall’s resolute performance and
Burnley’s increasing desperation another Lion’s set piece effectively ended the game with 20 minutes still left to play. Burnley pushed forward late on and as the game became stretched Elliott finally managed to create a few disappointing crossing opportunities but with Burnley committing so many men forward a Millwall third looked likely and the Lions got it on 87 minutes through Townsend on the break.
This was as much an excellent defensive away performance from Millwall as it was a poor one from
Burnley. It might not have been a pretty sight for either the neutral or for Burnley fans but credit must go to Kenny Jackett for posing a question to which Eddie Howe and Burnley had no answers. Burnley’s movement and build up play was poor throughout and the Clarets lost key battles in midfield and in the Millwall final third. Hopefully Howe will have learned some important things about his team from this game with Burnley still in a very good position to push on. This match marked Howe’s first 10 league games in charge and putting this result in perspective: 6 wins, 2 draws and 2 defeats (including 7 away games) is a magnificent start for the new manager.