The Royals’ unbeaten run is over after a 2-0 defeat against play-off chasing Millwall at The New Den. It is never an easy atmosphere at Millwall but it was a difficult afternoon for Mark Bowen’s side. Millwall scored through Matt Smith and then ex-Royal Jon Dadi Bodvarsson in the second half to secure the points.
Bowen on the performance
“I think we forgot to play. We got wrapped up in the hustle and bustle and the pressure that the crowd put on the referee and on the players. We have a good side and we have to be brave in how we play our game – we lost that a bit today.
“The way our system lined up against theirs, we had a spare man in midfield – but I thought we were nervous from the start. Of course, the pitch wasn’t great to play on – but that’s never been an excuse. We had enough quality in there to get it down and play.
“We defended resolutely in the first half – albeit we let far too many crosses into our box. At half-time we encouraged the guys to get on the ball and try to play, but my assessment as I look back on the whole match was that we were nervous in possession.
“In forward areas, we didn’t retain it enough, we weren’t clever enough, we weren’t imaginative enough. Hopefully it’s a one-off because we’ve been on a very good run. We want to shrug it off, learn from it and get back to what makes us a good side.”
“I have to say, it’s one of those games where I thought one goal could change everything, and it certainly did – and in the build-up it was an absolute certain hand-ball, right in front of the referee.
“Three or four of our lads stopped, expecting the referee to blow – of course you should play to the whistle, and we should be better at dealing with the cross, but the bottom line is that it was a certain hand-ball.
“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves because we’ve lost. Week in, week out, it’s a brutal league. We prepared right, but when I’m asking the guys to be brave on the ball, I don’t just mean putting heads into crosses and feet into challenges. It’s about when the atmosphere is tense and players are charging around, to have a cool head and show your true worth.
“We were probably a bit short on that today. But the guys in the dressing room want a reaction. We will bounce back. It’s a bit of a kick up the backside for us. We didn’t approach this game any different, but once the game is underway you have to make the correct decisions and be brave in possession.”
Bowen on what a big blow it is without Lucas Joao
“It certainly was today. In forward areas we didn’t retain the ball enough, weren’t clever enough, weren’t imaginative enough...hopefully it’s a one off because we’ve been on a very good run.
“We have to shrug the result off and learn from it. We have to get back to what makes us a good side and that’s being brave on the ball and show they are good players. We lost sight of that.
“I’ve got no problems when players make mistakes, but when they do they have to go and get the ball back again and again. You play through that and too many of the lads let it affect them.”
Bowen on ending the unbeaten run
“We knew the first goal was going to change the game and it certainly did. We struggled even more after it. But I’m staggered the referee didn’t see the fella handballed it when he was two yards away from him and looking straight at it [in the run-up to the goal].
“Three of our guys stopped which they shouldn’t have done but we never really recovered and the ball went out wide, we didn’t defend the box and then we went 1-0 down and we knew it would be a real battle.
“We changed to a 4-4-2 later on thinking it might affect them more but we didn’t adapt to it as well as we should have. We’ll dust ourselves down though and be ready for Forest.”
Bowen on the homophobic abuse in first half
“The referee said to me [when he came over] is that it’s my job to make you aware that I’ve been informed there was homophobic chants on the far side. I don’t know who they were directed at, he was just told by the linesman on the far side there had been homophobic chants.
“I haven’t really spoken to the players about it. I don’t think it disturbed us, the players didn’t mention it too much at half time. It’s a shame and it’s probably happening too much now but it’s for Millwall to deal with.”
Bowen on bouncing back
“We’ll be talking to the players and showing them bits from this game and the Forest game in the lead-up to Forest on Wednesday. We have to make sure we go into the game confident and realise we are a good side. We’ve been on good run and we have to make sure we bounce back.”
Bowen giving a transfer update
“I’m waiting and I’m seeing and we’re looking at things. But I’m more concerned now with what happened on the pitch and what could happen on Wednesday.”
Bowen on the hostile atmosphere
“There was no let-up - even the crowd around the dugouts. This is what this place is like. They help their team because they are intimidating and you have to be brave to stand up to it. You know it’s going to be long balls and crosses, and picking up second balls, and mostly we did that quite well but we forgot how to play.
“We haven’t got Joao and the strikers we have thrive on clever movement and passing in to them. We have to build the play through the different areas of the pitch.”
Bowen on Bodvarsson scoring
“That wasn’t nice to see but the move came because we didn’t retain the ball well enough in forward areas. We were gambling, trying to push for the equaliser, but because we were sloppy in possession the pitch opened up to them.
“It was three v three and even though we practice that in training it got a bit fraught. It surprised me - it wasn’t us. We got wrapped up instead of having cool heads.”
Bowen on the race for the play-offs
“There are so many teams in the race - it’ll go down to the last few games I’m sure. We have to look at ourselves and not those around us too much.”
Bowen on Blackett’s contract update
“He came to me and asked me about it - he’s very mature and says he just wants to concentrate on his football. I replied to him and said I’m just concentrating on preparing the team so that side of things we’ll leave to the hierarchy and his agent.”
Bowen on Loader’s absence
“Danny had a bump on his foot at Blackpool where he played really well. He was sore and limping so that’s why he didn’t travel.”