MILLWALL halted a run of three successive league defeats with a comprehensive and unexpectedly easy League One win over Southend at Roots Hall.
It was the second time in less than three weeks that the Lions travelled to manager Neil Harris’ former club and went away with a morale-boosting victory.
After just one win previously in December, this was also the perfect end to a far from perfect year for Millwall.
After an even opening to the contest, Millwall went ahead in the 27th minute through Joe Martin’s second goal of the season.
The away side doubled the lead when Fred Onyedinma set up the overlapping Shaun Cummings, whose cross to the back post seemed to go in off the legs of goalkeeper Dan Bentley.
Winger Onyedinma made it three moments before half-time when he finished from close range, before Aiden O’Brien raced onto Steve Morison’s through ball to take a couple of touches and finish left-footed past Bentley.
Millwall’s unexpected first-half surge
It didn’t quite seem to make sense that Millwall’s worst run of the season was followed by arguably the best half of football they have played in the campaign.
With a half an hour gone this game was already resembling the last 10 or 15 minutes of Millwall’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy win here 20 days ago. It was startling at one point so early in the contest to see George Saville and O’Brien breaking and facing just two home defenders. O’Brien, looking across the line, should have been more careful to stay onside.
But the Lions were already two goals ahead by that point. Ben Coker will feel he should have taken his own initiative to clear rather than waiting for a linesman’s flag to bail him out after tussling with Steve Morison on the right. Morison’s cross was blocked for a throw and after the ball had been worked back into the box by Onyedinma and half-cleared, Martin took a touch before firing into the bottom corner. It was an excellent strike on his weaker right foot that gave Bentley no chance.
Ten minutes before half-time Bentley inadvertently handed the away support slightly more venomous ammunition for their chants when he diverted Cummings’ cross to the net.
Incredibly, it was three before half-time when, after Morison’s shot inside the box was blocked, Onyedinma prodded in from a few yards out.
Brown goes wholesale
The Southend boss had clearly ordered his players to target what he obviously thought was a weakness on the right side of Millwall’s defence. David Worrall started on the left wing and his and striker Noel Hunt’s movement initially caused Byron Webster and Cummings a couple of problems.
But Worrall and Coker were gone at the break as Brown brought on Stephen McLaughlin and Joe Piggot.
Pigott actually had Southend’s best two chances to pull a goal back but Webster brilliantly blocked his shot as he manoeuvred towards goal on the left, and then the centre-back was congratulating Martin for his intervention to deny the same player after Jack Payne had crossed to the back post.
This was a mini-redemption of sorts for a few players that had been off the boil recently. Martin took his goal superbly and managed to keep Payne and then Will Atkinson in check. Onyedinma, arguably the standout performer during the difficult opening period of the season, began quietly but then scored and had a hand in two other goals.
And David Forde, who kept his place despite Jordan Archer’s availability following his one-game ban, was solid under crosses. Webster and Mark Beevers, meanwhile, hardly put a foot wrong, while O’Brien will be pleased to have scored for the first time in nine games.
Few Millwall fans could have envisaged such a comprehensive routing of an opponent on an eight-game unbeaten league run was possible. The away side displayed none of the nerves that had characterised recent performances. This should give them hope of a sustained top-six challenge. Defeat would have been such a deflating end to the year.
Instead, minds now turn positively towards two successive away league games – at Barnsley next Saturday and then the rescheduled clash with Oldham the following weekend. This ought to inspire confidence that six points is a realistic target.
There will then be the novelty of a Thursday night fixture when they take on Oxford United in the first leg of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy area final.
That now looks – for the moment, at least – more like an added bonus rather than a consolation given that December’s poor run has finally ended.