MILLWALL are through to the second round of the EFL Trophy after a 2-1 win over Gillingham at The Den on Tuesday night.
Josh Wright put the away side ahead in the 17th minute as Millwall struggled to create any real chances.
A minute before half-time Shaun Williams headed Tony Craig’s free-kick towards Lee Gregory sprinting into the box, but Stuart Nelson was smartly off his line to reach the ball before the striker.
It was the goalkeeper’s mistake in added time at the end of the first half that gifted Millwall their equaliser when he failed to punch Williams’ free-kick away and Fred Onyedinma headed home.
Chances were few in a second half that was dominated by Millwall after the introduction of Steve Morison gave them more of an attacking edge.
Gillingham had the chance to go back in front eight minutes from time, but in space in the box Elliott List fired a volley well over from Rory Donnelly’s cross.
Four minutes later Sid Nelson’s free-kick into the area dropped to Morison, but he was crowded out.
But Morison got his seventh goal of the season moments later when he fired low past Nelson.
Morison and Ben Thompson had chances to extend the lead in added time, but Nelson made two point-blank saves.
The late goal meant Millwall avoided penalties, and it also meant a first win in seven games.
This is a competition that has met with little enthusiasm, with the added confusion over how many first-team players must be in the starting XI to comply with the rules.
Neil Harris named four of the side that started at Walsall last Saturday. To avoid a fine, therefore, he has to pick five of the players from the starting XI on Tuesday night against Northampton in 11 days.
After some impressively physical and pacey performances in pre-season, right-back James Brown was handed his first senior competitive start, with Mahlon Romeo rested.
And it was from the young right-back’s impressive surge down the right that led to the free-kick from which Onyedinma punished Nelson and the away side. Onyedinma showed bravery to score his third goal of the season, and second in two games, and was warmly applauded by an appreciative home crowd as walked off the pitch with a head wound.
It had taken Millwall 45 minutes to put any kind of pressure on Gillingham. It was from another set-piece that they had gone behind. From a Gillingham corner the ball fell to Donnelly to shoot towards goal and to where Wright was standing free six yards out to turn and finish.
Later in the half the dangerous List forced Tom King into a save and when Donnelly returned the ball across the face of goal there was no team-mate there to take advantage and Nelson cleared from close to his own line.
Millwall had started the game in a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Onyedinma and Gregg Wylde in the wide midfield spots and Thomspon and Calum Butcher pushing forward in front of Williams to try to support Gregory.
But the striker was often isolated as he battled gamely for possession up front, and Harris switched to 4-4-2 when he brought on Morison for Wylde at half-time.
Joe Martin also came on for Noah Chesmain to add more experience to the defence.
Morison’s introduction gave Millwall a much more physical presence in attack, and when the striker crossed to the back post Thompson’s mis-kick found Butcher who headed wide. Moments later Onyedinama, now patched up, crossed towards Morison who swiped at the ball but missed his connection.
Morison made up for that late on when he brilliantly flicked the ball over the head of Max Ehmer before beating Nelson with a shot to the bottom corner.
With Luton beating West Brom in the other game in Group H, the Lions secured their place in the last 32 with a fixture to spare.
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