MILLWALL are through to the southern section final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy following a 2-0 win over Southend United at Roots Hall.
After the home side had made a strong start to the game, captain Steve Morison gave the Lions the lead in the 34th minute with a smart back-post finish.
Millwall doubled their lead 20 minutes after the break when midfielder Shaun Williams found space on the edge of the area to fire home his fourth goal of the season.
Phil Brown’s side were rocked by those concessions and it was Millwall who could have gone further ahead, but Byron Webster’s shot was cleared off the line and then Ed Upson’s volley was scrambled away.
How did Millwall respond after the weekend’s defeat?
Unsteadily, at first.
Neil Harris started Mark Beevers after his one-game ban. He replaced Sid Nelson in a Millwall defence that was jittery and disorganised last weekend.
Southend had much longer to prepare for the fixture: 10 days during which Millwall lost to Burton and were knocked out of the FA Cup against Wycombe.
Initially, it looked like it had been time well spent. The chief initiators of their early moves were Dave Worrall, nominally in a role on the left of midfield but always looking to join in with well-constructed attacks, and Jack Payne, buzzing around in that space in front of Millwall’s defence.
A lot of the play in the early stages of the first half was down Millwall’s left, where centre-forward David Mooney was targeting Joe Martin.
Martin was eventually booked for a foul on Payne after the diminutive attacker had impishly slipped the ball through the full-back’s legs. Minutes earlier Jordan Archer was at full stretch to tip the ball over after Mooney had teed up Worrall outside the box from a long clearance. It was a really excellent save.
When the opening goal came it was almost a direct reversal of the narrative in the clash between the sides earlier in the season when Millwall did most of the running before being sucker-punched by the only two shots on target they conceded.
Southend hadn’t had a whole lot to deal with until a Will Atkinson mistake left Lee Gregory charging towards Dan Bentley’s goal. Bentley produced a fine save but Brown’s side didn’t adequately clear and when Carlos Edwards’ cross found its way to Morison at the back post the striker found the far post with a first-time volley.
Southend finally broken at home
They were unbeaten at home in seven games since September 12, but then found themselves two down after 65 minutes, partly down to their anxiety in pushing too many players forward with too long left to be desperately chasing it. It was as if all the plans compiled in the previous 10 days had been tossed away. It was developing into a Millwall-type game.
They had been warned when Upson found space opening up in front of him on the counter. The midfielder never gave the impression he had enough pace to capitalise, though, nor did Millwall’s supporting cast have the pace to catch him. Southend retreated but when the ball broke on the edge of the box George Saville whistled a left-footed drive inches wide.
Southend were punished for their naïve haste, however, when Saville played the ball to Williams and he rifled a low shot to the corner that Bentley got a palm to but couldn’t keep out. Bentley, such a fine keeper and the bane of Millwall at The Den, caught out perhaps by the pace of the strike.
That goal seemed to complete the away side’s makeover and they now looked something like the team that had gone nine games unbeaten before the recent inconsistent spell.
It was Harris’ side that looked the more likely to get a third goal. Upson’s shot from inside the box was scrambled away. Gregory and then Aiden O’Brien tumbled in the area but referee Simon Hooper wasn’t interested.
Southend switched to 3-4-3 with the introduction of striker Joe Pigott and then Glen Rea, and while they still looked a threat it was more to do with knowing that time was running out rather than the cuteness with which they had put Millwall under pressure earlier.
Wembley dream still on
And this was always the more likely route there, of course. They’ve come impressively through the tougher side of the draw and will now face Oxford United for a place in the showpiece final.
There were much-improved individual performances that helped them there. Saville again looked more like the aggressive, confident figure that he did when he first joined on loan from Wolves. O’Brien put in a serious shift on the left wing, while Morison and Gregory, once Southend had made that earlier mistake that led to the opening goal, physically dominated their opponents, particularly in the second period.
Beevers was also an important addition to the back four.
Harris had called for a response, and it couldn’t have been delivered more perfectly.