MILLWALL’S six-match unbeaten run came to an end as Steven Davies’ second-half winner gave Bradford all three points at Valley Parade on Saturday afternoon.
Davies pounced with just 11 minutes left for the only goal to reduce the gap between the two sides in the League One table to just a point.
Millwall had a penalty shout in the second minute when Fred Onyedinma tumbled in the box after James Meredith’s challenge.
Tony McMahon and Joe Martin saw free-kicks go just wide at either end and Aiden O’Brien had a good chance but could only scoop Steve Morison’s cross over the bar.
Bradford had the ball in the back of the net just after the break, but after Jordan Archer had saved from Jamie Proctor, the striker was in an offside position when Billy Clarke’s close-range effort broke to him after a scramble.
The Bantams went in front in the 79th minute when substitute Davies knocked Nathan Clarke’s cross past Archer.
Neil Harris brought on striker Jamie Philpot late on but Ben Williams saved from Morison and Bradford hung on for the win.
Substitutions are decisive
Results on Friday night had made stretching the gap to seventh place to seven points tantalisingly achievable. Some of the strongest play-off contenders had suffered setbacks, even if Burton and Wigan nudged the target for automatic promotion a little further on.
These were testing, tricky conditions that made it difficult to read the movement of the ball. The first period was also marked by some strong challenges, Martin and Ed Upson going in the book while Stephen Darby perhaps owed Shaun Williams after the midfielder got to his feet quickly despite the Bradford player’s tackle that was late and high.
But it was that type of game. It was scrappy and tense and even the chances in the second half reflected that. Twice Millwall were relieved to see the offside flag go up with the ball bouncing around the box, first after Proctor had finished to the net and then with McMahon about to shoot.
Phil Parkinson made a decisive move in the 75th minute when he sent on James Hanson and Davies for Proctor and Clarke. It paid dividends four minutes later when Davies was given too much room in the box, and he gave Archer no chance with the finish.
Millwall boss makes changes
Harris made four changes to his side from the 1-0 win over Sheffield United. Onyedinma, Williams, Upson and O’Brien all started.
Harris did stress he would shake things up but it was still something of a surprise to see Lee Gregory, one half of such a potent strikeforce, on the bench. The Lions boss later confirmed Gregory wasn't fit to start.
Onyedinma was making his first start since the 2-1 defeat to Barnsley on January 2. Jed Wallace’s arrival and subsequent high level of performance and then the recruitment of Chris Taylor were significant obstacles.
And so was Meredith when it appeared the full-back went through the back of the winger in the second minute of the game. Maybe referee Darren Bond made some allowances for the conditions. It was a swirling wind in the first half that was behind Millwall. After two of Archer’s kick-outs went wide the goalkeeper could be heard letting out a frustrated shout and his mentor Kevin Pressman was out of the dugout in conversation with Harris.
Archer was happier to see McMahon’s free-kick whizz wide of his post in the seventh minute. At the other end Martin stood over the ball 25 yards out but was putting his hands to his head after his shot went inches wide with Williams beaten.
Shortly before half-time O’Brien had a chance to put Millwall ahead and he will certainly feel he should have done better than turn the ball over the bar from a good position eight yards out following good work from Morison on the right.
There was little constructive about much of the play, but there was a moment when it looked like Kyel Reid was through on Archer’s goal only for Mahlon Romeo to muscle him off the ball and Ben Thompson effected the clearance.
This was a difficult afternoon for O’Brien and he was replaced with Gregory in the second half. Taylor also came on for Upson with Bradford taking the initiative and possessing more of the ball.
That pressure eventually told, after Parkinson had made the telling substitutions.
It’s likely Gregory and Taylor will come back into the side for the televised clash with Burton on Monday night.
Gregory’s ability to hold up the ball here was clearly missed at times. Taylor hadn’t played since February 21 before his appearance against Sheffield United so it’s understandable Harris would want to ease him into the set-up.
They don’t have much time to prepare for Burton, but will quickly need to forget about this disappointing result.