SHAUN Williams was sent off in the first half as Coventry came from behind to defeat Millwall at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday afternoon.
Millwall were the better side early on and deservedly went in front, before Williams’ red card was decisive and Coventry scored twice after the break to claim the three points.
Aiden O’Brien, starting ahead of Lee Gregory, almost put Millwall ahead in the seventh minute but his shot inside the box was tipped over by Reice Charles-Cook.
The Lions went ahead in the 19th minute when Byron Webster powered Shane Ferguson’s corner past Charles-Cook.
The away side were dealt a blow in the 27th minute when Shaun Williams was sent off for an apparent headbutt on Ruben Lameiras. Neil Harris brought on Jimmy Abdou for Ferguson in the 35th minute to bolster his midfield.
Just after the break Lameiras had the opportunity to draw Coventry level but pulled his shot wide at the near post.
Coventry brought on Marcus Tudgay for Sam Ricketts in the 55th minute, and six minutes later they were level when John Fleck fired past Jordan Archer from distance.
In the 70th minute Tudgay put the Sky Blues ahead when he raced into the box to get to the ball before Archer and nudge it past the goalkeeper.
Millwall pressed for an equaliser, and substitute Ed Upson saw a shot scraped away close to the line. Joe Martin was also inches away only for Charles-Cook to tip his shot over, and Coventry hung on for a first win in seven games.
Millwall take the lead, but Coventry score for first time in four games
Byron Webster’s first goal since the 2-1 defeat to Fleetwood in November looked it would help Millwall on their way to a win to avenge the 4-0 defeat to the same opposition in August.
Harris had spoken of this fixture being a good measure of his side’s progress and the opening 20 minutes showed that, as it also showed how much below their level in August Coventry are.
However, Williams’ red card changed the nature of the contest. It took the defensive burden away from Coventry’s flair players, as Millwall had to drop deeper to defend, and Joe Cole, James Maddison and Fleck could flourish.
It’s a huge blow to Millwall’s play-off hopes, but far from fatal. And other results on Saturday could have been more unkind.
Tactical reshuffle after Williams red
Of all the frustrations perhaps the biggest was that Mark Haywood had already whistled for a free-kick to Millwall before Williams and Lameiras jostled for possession. The Coventry attacker felt Williams flicked a boot in his direction and turned to confront the Lions midfielder. There was slight forward movement from Williams’ head, but when Lameiras went sprawling it seemed an overreaction. Haywood thought otherwise, and sent off Williams.
Harris immediately summoned Abdou. But instead there were several minutes of consultation with his assistant Dave Livermore. When they made the switch it was Ferguson who was unfortunate to go off. Chris Taylor switched from right to left as Millwall set up in a 4-3-2 formation, with O’Brien the one dropping deep and Abdou detailed to provide cover to the right of Ben Thompson.
That enforced tactical tweak understandably left space out wide for Coventry. Tony Mowbray brought on Maddison for Romain Vincelot as Cole began to roam.
Fleck also began to push further forward and when he shot from 25 yards Archer did well to get down and push the ball away for a corner.
Maddison, on loan at Coventry as part of the agreement of his February move to Norwich, then sent a low shot skidding just wide of Archer’s left-hand post before the break.
Harris made another adjustment at half-time, with O’Brien dropping to the right side of midfield in a 4-4-1. Coventry also made changes, with Cole moving deep alongside Fleck to dictate the tempo and instigate attacking moves.
Upson then came on for O’Brien to give added defensive security out wide, but it was through the middle Coventry found their equaliser, Fleck firing left-footed into the top corner from 25 yards.
Coventry could play with the freedom that both their league position and their numerical supremacy over their opponents allowed, but it was still cruel on Millwall when Tudgay slid to put Coventry 2-1 up.
The theme will be the same on Tuesday night as it was before this fixture: Revenge.
There was a sense that Fleetwood were up for that November fixture more than previous ones, and their 2-1 win was a setback for a Millwall side that had been on a nine-game unbeaten run.
Like Shrewsbury and Colchester, Fleetwood are desperate for points to avoid the drop. That makes them difficult opponents.
Millwall can take the positive that with 11 men they were the better side. They need three points on Tuesday.