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Millwall: Use of substitutes the difference between Luton & Barnsley results?

Was a point earned for Millwall against Luton through Rowett’s subs & formation change?

Millwall started with a 5-3-2 formation. Evans between Pearce and Hutchinson at centre back. With Malone and Romeo in wing back positions. Woods and Thompson played as midfield two with Wallace in a free role, between the midfield and the attack of Bradshaw and Bodvarsson. Luton started with a similar 5-3-2 formation with wingbacks to Millwall, Tom Ince & Elijah Adebayo as a strike partnership. With a midfield triangle, Tunnicliffe and Dewsbury-Hall behind Morrell. Clark and Naismith either side of the defensive three of Cranie, Bradley, and Potts.

1st half:

Millwall’s 1st half performance involved poor passing and the wasting of decent chances. Ben Thompson twice missed the target when the ball dropped to him outside the box, and Tom Bradshaw failed to profit from the best chance of the half. Luton hit the target just twice in the first half, neither difficult saves for Bialkowski. Luton's had a grater share of the possession, yet neither were able to use the possession in a positive fashion during a cagey first half.

2nd half:

Luton started the half as the more comfortable team in possession, and arguably deserved to lead in the 55th minute. Seen in the image below:

A smart finish by Adebayo for his first Luton goal, although enabled by poor defending for the goal. Romeo is caught between marking Adebayo and covering the centre backs. There is large spaces in the box, seen by the unmarked Luton player around the 6 yard box. Achieved by the over-running of Luton down the right wing which caused Millwall to over load on their left side, and consequently leave large spaces in the box.

After the 60th minute, both sides made changes. Millwall acted first by bringing on Smith & Bennett for Bradshaw and Thompson. Leading to a change of structure to a sort of 4-3-3 formation, with Evans moving into the midfield. Followed 15 minutes later by Burey and Williams coming on for Bodvarsson and Woods. Luton first made substitutions in the 64th minute, and used all 5 by the 84th minute - a 20 minute period. Millwall’s goal came through a well worked thrown in. Williams in space delivered a perfect cross to Smith at the back post, who was able to header it back across goal. Converted by Evans, who beat the standing still Luton defence to the ball.

As shown by the photo below, Smith challenged his two markers for William's cross. Whilst Smith is in the air, the other Luton players can be seen standing still facing Smith. Allowing Evans to move to the back post and score his first Millwall goal unchallenged. Another poor goal conceded by the defence, but also smart movement by the attacker.


Despite Luton winning for 94 minutes, having a greater share of possession, and a higher passing accuracy. Millwall took a point, and arguably wasted an opportunity when considering their xG was 1.56, compared to Luton’s 0.67. Creating chances was not the problem for Millwall, but finishing them instead. Whereas, Luton produced few chances - but scored with one of them. Just 21% of Millwall’s shots hit the target, compared to Luton’s 44%.

Gary Rowett took two strikers off (Bradshaw and Bodvarsson) to leave just one striker (Smith) on the pitch. A bold move by Rowett, which ultimately succeeded to an extent. The substitutes had a fairly effective impact on the game. Bennett won numerous loose balls from Smith’s aerial successes. Burey provided an outlet on the right wing, which included winning a free kick in a dangerous position. Williams crossed to Smith, who assisted Evans for the equaliser. All four substitutes between 61st and 75th minutes, most made by a team in that period. See the below table:

Millwall made the second earliest double substitution out of the Tuesday Championship games, after Derby's half time substitutions. Of the three teams losing before making substitutions, only Millwall’s result improved after the substitutions to win a point. Even more impressive considering the transfer fees of the Millwall substitutes compared to Middlesbrough and Reading’s. See below:

Different approach against Barnsley?

Rowett chose the same back 5 and central midfield two as the game against Luton. Unlike Luton, Millwall didn't start with a recognised striker, rather Bennett supported behind by Williams and Wallace. Closer to a 5-4-1 against Barnsley, than the 5-3-2 used at Luton.

First half:

A frantic first 6 minutes which saw Barnsley lead from a Woodrow goal, before Bennett equalised on the break for Millwall. Both goals can be criticised for the defending. Millwall didn't deal with the initial cross by Mowatt, before failing to mark Woodrow - who had space to score from the second ball. Barnsley were caught pressing with a high line from a through ball, Bennett cut inside and finished with a smart finish across the goalkeeper. As seen through the images below:

1-0: The image shows that Millwall failed to react to the second ball from Mowatt's free kick. Due to the lCK OF response from the Millwall players, three Barnsley players moved closer to the goal than any of the defending Millwall players. One of these three players was Cauley Woodrow, who calmly slotted past Bialkowski in goal.

1-1: Shown by the image below, Barnsley committed in numbers to score a second. Which left them in a '2 on 2', which was punished by the pass (in the photo) why Jed Wallace. Which split the Barnsley's defending pair and found Mason Bennett, who cut inside the pitch from the left wing and scored.

Second half:

Millwall started flat and Barnsley deservedly scored after a period of sustained pressure, although another defensive mistake which allowed Helik space and time to finish. Rowett made his first sub 15 mins after the goal (75th minute) to bring Smith on for Thompson. Followed by a triple substitution of Burey, Ferguson, and Bodvarsson on, and later Bradshaw in the 85th minute. Despite making five subs, Millwall failed to impose themselves on Barnsley in search for an equaliser.

2-1: The image below shows the failure of Millwall, for the second time, to deal with a second ball from an Alex Mowatt cross. Only two Millwall defenders were in close proximity when the ball returned into the Millwall box, a result of poor organisation which saw several Millwall players stuck at the edge of the box. Although a smart finish from Helik, the two close defenders failed to apply enough pressure on the Barnsley player.

Millwall’s xG of 0.57 never increased massively after the substitutions, which highlights their limited impact. With Bennett leading Millwall’s individual xG statistics, with 0.5, less than Woodrow and on par with Morris. Compared to Barnsley, whose xG grew by 0.62 between the start (when they made their first subs) and the end of the game. The disparity between the two team’s xG highlights the difference in creation of chances, Millwall had few chances - which was finished by Bennett. Whereas, Barnsley created numerous chances from open play. Despite scoring both of their goals from free kicks - which Millwall didn’t deal with.

The table below compares Millwall's average cost of substitute brought on (Saturday's games) to the average substitute cost of Barnsley & teams who won after conceding first on the weekend:

Unlike Millwall, the other 4 teams (excluding Barnsley) were able to win after conceding first - with 4 of them winning. Different pattern to the Tuesday night fixtures, where Millwall were the only team to gain a point after conceding first.y team to avoid defeat. Millwall’s average cost of a sub brought on Saturday was more expensive than just Luton and Barnsley - both promoted after Millwall. Although obvious it suggests Millwall need to invest greater into their squad, to bridge the gap to the more effective substitutes of the other teams.

My ‘checklist’ for considering the effectiveness of substitutions:

  1. Did the substitute score or assist?

  2. Did the team’s performance improve?

  3. Did their result improve?

Against Luton: Rowett’s substitutions arguably hit each of the three, through his substitutions and formation tweaks. Smith assisted the goal, Millwall’s attacking threat improved, and the avoided defeat. However, Luton can be criticised for the drop off in intensity, which enabled Millwall to sustain a period of pressure - which culminated in the late goal.

Against Barnsley: Rowett's substitutes did not improve Millwall's performance or the result. Smith failed to have an impact, largely due to Millwall not applying enough pressure in the final third. Whereas, the other substitutes did not impact the game either.

Data from: WhoScored

Images from: Luton YT, Millwall YT and Championship Videos YT


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