MILLWALL won at home for the first time since November 28 to move to within one point of Peterborough in sixth in the Sky Bet League One table.
After Thursday night’s disappointing defeat to Oxford in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, this was exactly the response Neil Harris wanted, and he got it as Millwall were 3-0 up by the break.
Lee Gregory put the Lions ahead in the 14th minute before he doubled the advantage from the spot 20 minutes later.
Jordan Archer was forced into an impressive double-save in between those goals, before Steve Morison made it three a minute before the break.
Substitute JJ Hooper gave his side a glimmer of hope when he headed past Archer just after the hour mark, but Millwall never looked likely to surrender the points.
It was the home side who had chances to make it four, but Ed Upson and Aiden O’Brien, who had the best of them, were unable to punish Port Vale further.
Archer back at number one
The big talking point before kick-off was whether David Forde would be left out after his mistake against Oxford last weekend, and that question was answered shortly after 2pm when Archer’s name appeared on the team sheet.
To be a fly on the wall when that news was delivered. Forde revealed he was unhappy to be dropped in August, so one wonders what his feelings were sitting on the bench today just six games after reclaiming his starting spot.
Archer didn’t take long to justify that decision. He had already made a straightforward catch when after Gregory had put Millwall ahead his side momentarily switched off. That allowed Port Vale conjure an opening on the edge of the box but Archer dived low to his right to palm away Sam Foley’s shot and then sprung to his feet to keep out Colin Daniel’s follow-up. Those are the reactions and abilities that make him potentially a top-class goalkeeper.
But if there was a tone to be set after the disaster against Oxford it was Gregory taking the responsibility. His goals apart, one moment towards the end of the end of the first half summed up his efforts. Port Vale were attempting to build from deep but Gregory refused to stop chasing and when he forced Richard Duffy into a hurried pass Millwall could break again.
Gregory’s first goal was delightful, a delicate header to the back post from Jed Wallace’s deep cross. He finished his penalty expertly, after it was he who had won it with a neat turn in the box that deceived Richard Duffy . The build-up that led to it was swift, the ball transferring quickly from Byron Webster to Jimmy Abdou and then to Morison who guided it to his strike partner.
To their credit, Millwall showed few signs they were content to be two up. And it was three when a desperate Port Vale defence couldn’t clear, the ball eventually falling to Morison who tucked home his 10th of the season from eight yards.
Home rot stopped
When Millwall defeated Bury 1-0 at The Den at the end of November they moved to within two points of Peterborough in sixth, but with a game in hand.
Depending on your outlook it can be viewed that Millwall have blown a number of chances since then to finally position themselves in the play-off places, or that they can count themselves fortunate to still be within touching distance.
They were clearly riled by what happened against Oxford and set about Port Vale determined to atone for it.
After a hugely dominant first half the disappointment was that they let Port Vale pull a goal back so easily, Michael O’Connor’s free-kick floating over the defence with Hooper prodding in a volley at the back post. It seemed Archer and his defence were waiting for a call from the other that never came.
No matter. Millwall didn’t falter, the only criticism being they passed up a couple of chances to increase their lead soon after. Upson certainly needed to show more confidence in front of goal when after being set up by O’Brien he placed his low effort from inside the box too close to Jak Alnwick.
Webster provides defensive lead
If Gregory lead from the front, Webster provided the defensive ballast at the back. He, or more specifically his head, seemed to find most of the long balls Port Vale played forward. Perhaps Rob Page’s side should have altered their approach play, but they just couldn’t find a way past the big defender. One cameo in the second half summed up the authority of his display and his ability to read danger: After he had robbed Ajay Leitch-Smith of the ball but gave away a corner in doing so, it was he at the back post who diverted the ball away with goalscorer Hooper well positioned to nod in a second.
In front of him, Abdou was back to his influential, energetic best, always alert to danger when Port Vale broke and even getting forward for a couple of attempts on goal.
All round, most of the 7,773 in attendance will have gone away happy after a vastly improved performance.