MILLWALL are through to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy southern area semi-final after an entertaining 5-3 win over Plymouth at Home Park.
In a match that had almost everything Millwall led 2-1 at the break before a second half that produced five goals but easily could have seen double that.
Lee Gregory put Millwall ahead in the 21st minute when he executed a neat back header that looped over Luke McCormick after Shaun Williams had crossed from the left.
Millwall were dealt another injury blow in the 34th minute when Carlos Edwards was forced off and Plymouth eqaulised moments later with Jake Jervis giving Jordan Archer no chance when he lashed the ball home from 12 yards.
Archer made an outstanding save when Carl McHugh’s header from close range seemed destined for the bottom corner, but the keeper palmed the ball away.
The Lions went ahead again just before the break when Mark Beevers headed Williams’ corner towards goal and the ball looked like it flicked off McHugh before trickling over the line.
Gregory got his second after linking up neatly with Steve Morison to beat McCormick at the second attempt.
But Plymouth made it 3-2 in the 56th minute when Graham Carey found the top corner with a wicked shot from 40 yards.
Gregory completed his hat-trick from the spot after he was fouled in the box and then laid on a perfect pass for Aiden O’Brien to sweep home his ninth of the season.
But the scoring wasn’t over and Jervis grabbed his second of the contest when he drove low past Archer moments after Morison raced through only for McCormick to make the save.
Gregory gets his reward
He gets some stick but there can never be any doubting his application.
This was also a demonstration of his finishing ability and of a partnership with Morison that continues to blossom.
He took his hat-trick well and showed his awareness and touch to set up O’Brien to make it 5-2 in the 66th minute.
Gregory would admit himself that he struggled in the early part of the season but, though he sometimes needs to be more careful in possession, particularly when Millwall have the chance to counter, Neil Harris hugely appreciates his value to the side.
The Lions boss now has three attackers in ultra-confident form. Morison probably should have got his name on the scoresheet as well but he skewed a second-half effort high and wide when he should have worked McCormick. He had two more chances in the last five minutes but McCormick was in the right place to prevent him adding to his season’s tally.
However, his role in Gregory’s second was crucial and he continues to be pivotal to Millwall’s style of play.
More injury problems for Lions
Harris picked his strongest available line-up, and there were two surprises on the bench with Ed Upson and Sid Nelson making appearances after recovering from injury.
Both players had little training done prior to this fixture and ideally Harris would probably have liked to keep them where they were.
But those plans were disrupted when Edwards went off with what looked like a muscle injury.
Nelson played at right-back against Barnet in the 2-1 Capital Cup defeat in August and seconds after he came on Plymouth’s Gary Sawyer swung over a cross from the left and Jervis was able to dig the ball from under his feet to swivel and fire past Archer.
It remains to be seen what exactly the problem with Edwards is but his loss for any period of time would be damaging to Millwall.
It feels a bit like one step forward, two back at the moment on the injury front with half of the first-choice back four potentially sidelined.
Harris believes the third disruption to Millwall’s season due another international break comes at an opportune time.
Despite Burton’s Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink stating his dissatisfaction with the postponement, Harris says Millwall had little choice.
He explained: “It’s a tricky situation where do you want the game called off or do you want to try and maintain momentum?
“We want to win every game and the players know where I stand on that.
“At the moment with the injuries we’ve got and the call-ups if we’d played Saturday we would have been really light.
“Before it wasn’t ideal, but this one might work in our favour.”
*Millwall later accredited Lee Gregory with the second goal.