MILLWALL missed out on the chance to move into the top six in League One as they fell to a 2-1 defeat in a feisty game at the Pirelli Stadium.
Instead, it was the home fans celebrating at the end as first-half goals from Damien McCrory and Nasser El Khayati lifted Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s side to the top of the table.
Joe Martin got his first goal for Millwall to halve the deficit in the 75th minute and the Lions could easily have got an equaliser as they surged forward late on.
Fred Onyedinma saw his bicycle kick drift just over the bar before Lee Gregory’s shot from 10 yards was blocked.
The game threatened to boil over a number of times as referee Oliver Langford struggled to maintain calm.
Millwall launched a succession of balls into the box in the almost six minutes of injury time and after Gregory had flicked Steve Morison’s header towards goal, Langford issued a second yellow card to Mark Beevers after yet another scuffle between both sets of players.
Nelson makes a return as Millwall concede two preventable first-half goals.
Sid Nelson made his first start for Millwall since the 3-1 win over Crewe in September. He replaced the suspended Byron Webster and was immediately tested by the strong running of Stuart Beavon. He did well, showing his pace and intelligent reading of the game. And he demonstrated his bravery in the second half with a couple of inspiring clearing headers.
The really galling thing about Burton’s two first-half goals was how preventable they were. The first was a pre-planned move when, instead of whipping a free-kick in as Millwall expected, Mark Duffy rolled the ball into the box where left-back McCrory had made a run unseen by the away defence. McCrory’s finish was still excellent, but it was a move that hadn’t been anticipated.
Burton played with nowhere near the intensity of Fleetwood a week before, yet Millwall found themselves two goals down three minutes before the break when El Khayati swept the ball home after a rapid break. Again the source of the goal was easily identifiable, George Saville losing the ball on the edge of the box after Onyedinma had directed a header goalwards.
Referee Langford made his first controversial decision of the evening when he blew moments before Aiden O’Brien lifted the ball over goalkeeper Jon Mclaughlin for an apparent handball by the striker. It looked extremely harsh and the official further angered the Millwall bench by booking the Millwall forward.
Ben Thompson came on for Saville at half-time and Gregory for Shane Ferguson but it didn’t really seem to change the complexion of the game until Martin scrambled in to reduce the Burton lead.
That was the first time Burton came under real concerted pressure as a game that gave no real indication it would turn into such a niggly affair in the first half looked like it would spill over every time there was a collision between the sides.
But that edge suited Millwall more than the hosts and they had a number of chances to rescue a contest that had looked beyond them at half-time.
The Lions pinned Burton to the edge of their own box in search of an equaliser, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say the fight they showed probably meant they merited one.
Harris unhappy with his side and the official
The Millwall boss was critical of his team for conceding what he felt were two avoidable goals. But he also thought the referee made a couple of questionable decisions, including sending off Beevers and failing to award a penalty after what he thought was a trip on O’Brien in the second half.
Harris said: “We can’t let sides score like that from set-pieces and expect to win the game.
“We were comfortable, the boys were calm. We pressed the ball really well and when we did have it we played calmly. Burton are a good side and hard to play against, they’re really fit and organised.
“But we were in no danger so the first goal was really poor to concede the way we did. There was a complete lack of leadership in the team.
“The second goal was from our corner and that’s really frustrating because we should be better than that.
“It’s an uphill battle when you’re 2-0 down. Having said that we did well enough to get something out of the game. It’s some decisions that have cost us a goal and a penalty.
“I just spoke to the referee, he was good enough to see me, he’s a nice fella. He said there was contact on Aiden in the penalty area.
“So it’s really hard to understand why it’s not a penalty. We respect the referee’s decision but unfortunately he got it wrong and it was a big decision.”