Report: Millwall 2-1 Fleetwood Town

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MILLWALL ended their search for a first League One win at home in over two months as they defeated Fleetwood 2-1 at The Den.

Lee Gregory put Millwall ahead from the penalty spot in the 31st minute after Ashley Eastham had pulled back Fred Onyedinma.

Gregory doubled the lead again from the spot in the 48th minute, Millwall’s eighth successful penalty this season.

Fleetwood substitute Ashley Hunter pulled a goal back when his left-footed drive beat Jordan Archer at his near post.

Archer then saved from Devante Cole, before Gregory headed Shaun Williams’ free-kick over the crossbar with 10 minutes left.

Millwall hadn’t won at home in the league since August 20 when they defeated Sheffield United 2-1. Since then one of the concerns was the number of times they had conceded the first goal and had to spend the rest of the game chipping away at massed defences.

That didn’t look likely to be repeated against a Fleetwood side that carried little attacking threat before Millwall went in front.

Millwall hadn’t exactly been riveting either, however, and it took until the 26th minute before they tested Chris Neal. After Ben Thompson had been fouled outside the box by former Lion Martyn Woolford, Williams clipped the free-kick towards the top corner but Neal tipped the ball over.

Three minutes later Gregory read Aiden O’Brien’s flick and made space in the box for a shot but Neal got down to save a weak effort.

The play from both sides was pedestrian and that was reflected in the mood in the stands, where the home support weren’t exactly being encouraged to get involved.

That changed in the 31st minute and Uwe Rosler will be entitled to ask centre-back Eastham what he was thinking when he fouled Onyedinma with the attacker struggling to make an opening for a shot. The penalty from Gregory was typically decisive as he sent Neal the wrong. It was his fifth goal of the season and his fourth successful spot-kick.

It was hard to see what exactly Fleetwood were trying to do to unsettle a defence that hadn’t kept a clean sheet in the league since the opening-day 3-0 win over Oldham.

David Ball did produce a neat piece of skill in the box but was crowded out, and the closest they came was through Woolford’s shot from 25 yards that went wide.

It took just three minutes of the second half for the feeling Fleetwood seemed to be determined to be their own worst enemies to be reinforced. It was hard to imagine what good Nathan Pond thought he was doing his team when he wrestled with Byron Webster 12 yards out as Williams’ corner floated into the box. After both players hit the turf referee Carl Boyeson immediately pointed to the spot. Pond protested, before Gregory struck his penalty into the opposite corner to his first.

Gregory could have scored a hat-trick after Steve Morison released him in behind Conor McLaughlin, but Neal came off his line quickly to spread himself and make an impressive save.

The lack of intuition in Fleetwood’s attack was then illustrated when after Tony Craig headed Shane Ferguson’s cross over and had to go off for treatment, Fleetwood decided to take a corner short rather than try to take advantage of Millwall’s numerical disadvantage defending a set-piece. And then as if to rubberstamp the naivety of the decision Jimmy Ryan thumped a shot over from 25 yards.

The game's theme of self-inflicted damage continued when in the 65th minute Fleetwood substitute Hunter aimed a speculative left-footed drive towards the near post. Archer was there and had it covered, but he let the ball slip through his grasp. It was Fleetwood’s first shot on target.

Sensing there was something in the game for them when almost all of the previous pattern of play suggested there shouldn’t be, Rosler sent on striker Cole and when he poked Ryan’s cross towards goal Archer ensured a more favourable personal outcome by diving to block and keep his team ahead.

It’s a credit to Millwall that they didn’t panic after five league defeats in six games, and they could have made the game safe when they forced a number of set-pieces in Fleetwood’s half, but Gregory couldn’t keep his header from Williams’ delivery under Neal’s crossbar.

But Millwall didn’t need a third to take the points, and there was an added bonus in the last minute when Shaun Hutchinson came on for Gregory for just his second appearance of the season.

John Kelly

(@jkelly1882)