MILLWALL won their fifth consecutive game on the road to keep the pressure on the sides ahead of them in Sky Bet League One after a professional and disciplined performance against Rochdale at Spotland.
Lee Gregory put Millwall ahead in the 54th minute when he tapped in from close range after a scramble in the box and a suspicion of offside.
Minutes later Jordan Archer almost dropped a Callum Camps cross over the line but gathered at the second attempt.
Millwall hung on relatively comfortably to keep a second consecutive clean sheet in the league ahead of their meeting with Scunthorpe on Tuesday night.
Millwall frustrate their hosts
This was one of those messy games that will have pleased Neil Harris. Millwall frustrated their opponents, responding to Harris’ loud prompts to “watch the second ball”. It was from one such piece of play that the Lions went ahead. After Gregory had almost found himself through on goal the ball broke to Jed Wallace. He feigned to shoot but brilliantly flicked the ball inside to Morison, whose scuffed shot was going wide only for Gregory to appear and finish at the back post for his 19th of the season. It was a real poacher’s goal.
A measure of the frustration in the stands could be taken when, after a break in play, Shaun Williams decided to send the drop-ball into the corner. It probably should have incensed the home side, but it didn’t really provoke much of a furious response.
There was another incident midway through the second half when it seemed Sid Nelson had shown his inexperience by going forehead to forehead with Ian Henderson having thought there was something cynical in the attacker’s trip on him. Nelson received a booking, but he didn’t let it put him off and he effected a number of clearances. His moment of indiscipline could have roused the home side and their supporters.
Nothing better summed up the away side’s discipline and commitment better than Mahlon Romeo’s block from Nathaniel Mendez-Laing’s shot in added time. Millwall were simply immovable as they professionally closed out the game.
Horses for courses
Harris made one change to his starting XI from the side that won so convincingly against Walsall last week, with Joe Martin replacing Shane Ferguson at left-back.
It was easy to see what his thinking was. Martin brings more height to the side and with Rochdale targeting Calvin Andrew and Joe Bunney it was needed. Andrew looked like he had the beating of Byron Webster, and Bunney was profiting on the right early on from the ball breaking off his team-mate.
It was that combination that lead to one of Rochdale’s best chances in the first half – but also resulted in a blow for Keith Hill. After Bunney had cut back inside Martin and swung a cross to the back post, Andrew rose above Nelson but couldn’t direct his header on target. The former Millwall player also couldn’t get back to his feet after falling awkwardly and Nelson and Webster were probably happy to see him go off to be replaced with Peter Vincenti.
A number of Rochdale players were reportedly ill during the week but they weren’t playing with any evident sluggishness. Indeed, they probably should have been ahead inside five minutes but Romeo, starting his second successive game, was in the right place to clear Camps’ ball across the six-yard box.
At the other end Wallace put Morison through in the box, but the striker’s first touch was heavy and he couldn’t get his cross past Josh Lillis who anticipated Gregory’s position at the far post.
There was a Groundhog Day feel to the end of the first half. Millwall won a succession of corners – 10 in total in the opening 45 minutes – but couldn’t make anything from Ed Upson’s deliveries from the left and Shaun Williams' in-swingers from the opposite side. Harris could be seen wheeling away in frustration as Rochdale finally cleared the ball. And that annoyance would have deepened and turned to anger had Archer not saved from Henderson well over the allotted three minutes added time and just before the half-time whistle.
After the break, as he was at Walsall last week, Gregory was clinical to fire his side to a fifth successive away win.
Man of the match
Gregory pinches it – but only just.
His value is in his constant sniffing out of chances in the box. The former Halifax striker has praised Harris for his work with the strikers, but Gregory also possess a positional nous that is difficult to teach.
Mention should also go to Shaun Williams. The midfielder has his critics but he was calmness personified in the second half and one sumptuous ball over the top could have resulted in a second goal for Gregory but Lillis palmed away.