MILLWALL are back up to fifth place in the Sky Bet League One table after a confident 2-0 win over league leaders Burton at The Den on Monday night.
Bradford’s earlier win at Crewe had lifted them above the Lions, but Millwall bounced back from defeat against the Bantams on Saturday in perfect fashion.
Millwall took their chances well and it was a deserved win against a side that faded after a bright start.
Mark Duffy had Burton's first opportunity, testing Jordan Archer in the seventh minute but the goalkeeper got down low to his left to beat the ball away.
Aiden O’Brien put Millwall ahead in the 12th minute with a superb strike into the top corner after Lee Gregory had teed him up with a perfectly weighted pass.
Gregory doubled the lead six minutes later when from Shaun Williams’ through ball he rounded Jon McLaughlin to finish.
O’Brien was inches away from putting Millwall three goals up after the break but he just failed to make contact with the ball after Steve Morison had headed Williams’ free-kick towards goal.
Ben Thompson had a chance to mark another fine performance with a goal but after running the length of the pitch to get on the end Gregory’s pass he had run out of the necessary steam to apply the finish.
Lions get crucial win
The way other results went on Monday Millwall had to get three points here. But few could have predicted how ultimately comfortable this win would be.
Burton started promisingly but after Millwall went two goals up before the 20th minute the Brewers' early coherence in attack waned. Nigel Clough’s side will likely still be playing Championship football for the first time in their history next season but Millwall showed the finishing nous to suggest they can join them there.
Gregory added another goal in this prolific season but Lions manager Neil Harris will be just as pleased with O’Brien. He hadn’t scored since the 2-1 win at Chesterfield in January but took his goal here with aplomb. O’Brien coming into the same kind of form he showed earlier in the season could be decisive in the run-in.
This was another physical performance and Williams also deserves a mention for the way he set that aggressive tone alongside Thompson.
It was a gamble to play these two fixtures with three key players away on international duty. Morison had called for squad players to make an impact in this period and there is no doubt they did here.
This was also an eighth clean sheet in 12 games, and the back four have to take a lot of credit. There were some nervy moments but Byron Webster and Mark Beevers were immense and a 90th-mminute back-header away from danger from Joe Marin summed up the diligence and intelligence of the effort. Such are Mahlon Romeo’s high standards and his importance to the side it has almost become the norm to see this type of accomplished display.
Behind them Archer was never truly tested after Duffy's effort but he was still a reassuring presence under high balls.
Millwall have clinical first-half edge
Two shots on target. Two goals. When Harris speaks about quality finishing the two first-half strikes here illustrated what he means. O’Brien was given the nod to start despite being out of form recently. If some fans wondered about his selection it took him 12 minutes to emphatically answer the question.
There was certainly a question mark, too, over Burton’s defence. They were pushing high up the pitch and when Gregory raced onto Thompson’s long ball forward centre-backs John Mousinho and Tom Flanagan were desperately trying to get back to cut out his route to goal. They achieved that but Gregory held the ball up for O’Brien making a late run forward. The pass was perfect and the finish even better, O’Brien thumping his 12th of the season, and first in 12 games, high past McLaughlin.
Still Burton persisted with that defensive tactic. Williams almost put Morison through before the midfielder must have wondered how it was so easy to pick out Gregory’s run. Millwall fans looked towards the linesman but the flag stayed down. Gregory nudged the ball past McLaughlin and then passed into an empty net. Easy.
Burton were rocked having been in rocking form in the opening 10 minutes. Calum Butcher carved out space in the Millwall penalty area and Duffy probably should have made it more difficult for Archer.
The Brewers’ frustration as the half went on was summed up when striker Stuart Beavon committed three quick fouls to earn a booking.
Beavon was taken off in the second half but Archer didn’t have a save to make.
It was only a pity that Thompson couldn’t decorate the performance with a third goal late on.
With these two difficult Easter fixtures out of the way, the run-in looks less testing. Though predicting the likely final tally of points is setting oneself up for swift recalculations, Millwall will certainly feel they should win their three remaining games at home, against Shrewsbury, Fleetwood and Oldham.
Three wins would give them 74 points – Chesterfield finished sixth last season with 69. It appears it will take more this time but clashes at Colchester and Bury also offer big opportunities to build up that buffer.
They will go to Colchester next weekend high on confidence.