MILLWALL secured their place in the play-offs after a Byron Webster brace and a goal from Shane Ferguson gave them a 3-0 win over Oldham.
The Lions were still in with a chance of automatic promotion before the fixture, but Burton’s 2-1 win over Gillingham ensures Millwall will have to take the knockout route back to the Championship.
Webster gave Millwall the lead in the fifth minute when he headed Chris Taylor’s corner past Joel Coleman.
Steve Morison almost doubled it in the 19th minute when he audaciously tried to lob Coleman from 45 yards out, but the ball just cleared the crossbar.
Millwall continued to look comfortable and after Mahlon Romeo had been fouled Joe Martin clipped the top of the crossbar from 25 yards.
The Lions did finally make it 2-0 in the 40th minute when Aiden O’Brien’s attempted back-heel towards goal from Morison’s cross found Ferguson at the back post and he tapped past Coleman from two yards out.
Four minutes into the second half Jonathan Forte should have pulled one back for Oldham but shot straight at Jordan Archer from eight yards.
Webster put Millwall three up in the 54th minute when he nodded in at the back post after Morison had headed Ferguson’s free-kick back across goal.
Substitute Dominic Poleon missed a sitter in the 77th minute when with just Archer to beat from four yards out he somehow shot over.
O’Brien could have made it four late on but shot straight at Coleman.
Webster leads goal charge
Maybe after Oldham had released the pressure valve last weekend when their 1-0 win over Crewe confirmed their League One status it was inevitable there would be a big drop-off in performance level.
They built their successful survival push on a new solidity in defence after John Sheridan had taken over from David Dunn in January but they had nowhere near that level of defensive conviction on Saturday afternoon as Millwall cut them open from set-pieces and in open play.
Millwall had won only one of the other four games in which Webster had scored this season but it never looked like they would leave three points behind against an Oldham side that was just not as sharp as their opponents. Webster’s fifth-minute goal was a good illustration of his own uncompromising style, as he forced his way past his marker to plant a downward header that bounced into the ground before hitting the net.
He scored his sixth of the season in easier circumstances and even though Oldham’s season is virtually over, manager Sheridan would have been displeased at how much space Webster was left in to head past Coleman.
Amazingly, Webster could have scored again but couldn’t keep his shot down after Martin’s effort from Ferguson’s cross had been blocked at the near post. The former Yeovil Town defender said earlier in the campaign that he was targeting five goals this season, but even he probably found it absurd to be on a hat-trick in the sunshine at The Den in the last home league game with Millwall still chasing automatic promotion.
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Millwall had conceded just one goal in six homes games before this fixture, and there were times in the first half when Webster and Mark Beevers covered for each other or combined in their penalty area to cut out the danger and show what a good centre-back partnership they are. Romeo and Martin were also busy but rarely faltered.
Neil Harris mentioned Webster in his programme notes when talking about candidates for Player of the Year and it’s worth remembering given how important he is to the team now that he wasn’t a regular before Tony Craig’s injury in October.
Meanwhile, Archer, who received the club award on the pitch before the game, only had to worry about crosses in the first half and he was barely stretched even then.
Harris had also talked up Morison’s influence this season and it would have been fitting, after the captain had seen Coleman off his line, if the ball had crept under the crossbar instead of over. Morison was typically hard-working to run onto Romeo’s ball down the line in the 40th minute and Ferguson, starting after missing the last two games, was concentrated enough to take advantage after O’Brien’s flick hadn’t quite ended up where he had intended it.
Oldham ramped up their attacking play a notch in the second period, and Forte and Poleon should have given their small travelling support something to cheer.
There was a lot of disappointment among Millwall fans when it was announced there would be just over 1,000 tickets made available for the last League One game of the season.
But that will give over to excitement at the prospect of their involvement in the play-offs.
Gillingham were 10 points ahead of Millwall after a Dominic Samuel double and Bradley Dack’s goal gave Justin Edinburgh’s side a 3-0 win at The Den in December.
But Gillingham have struggled in 2016 and dropped out of the top six after last weekend’s defeat to Shrewsbury.
Before the turn of the year the last fixture of the season looked like it would have little significance beyond being as close to a derby as Millwall have had this season.
It means so much more now with the final positions from third to sixth still to be decided.