MILLWALL picked up their first points of the 2016-17 EFL Trophy campaign after a 2-0 win over West Brom’s U23s at The Den on Tuesday night.
Jimmy Abou scored his first goal since September in the 63rd minute to give the Lions the lead against a dogged young Baggies side, before Steve Morison increased the advantage with his second penalty of the season, his sixth goal in his last seven games.
Millwall will be relieved Morison's spot-kick ensured they wouldn’t have to contest a series of them when it looked for a long time that that was where this fixture would find its finale.
It was certainly the last thing Neil Harris would have wanted on the fourth Tuesday in a row his side were required to play and ahead of the clash with unbeaten Bradford in League One next Saturday.
There was little enthusiasm to detect in the build-up to the opening round of a competition that has attracted a fair amount of criticism and suspicion that it’s a step to eventually establishing a second-tier Premier League.
There were even some people, like Sheffield United assistant manager Alan Knill, complaining competition rules were vague.
Certainly, when you considered there was a bonus point available to the winners of the subsequent penalty shootout in the event of a draw, it did seem as if a prize had been on offer to the person who came up with the most bonkers set of rules.
Even the promise of £10,000 for a group-stage win and £5,000 for a draw seemed like an insult on a day when Aston Villa paid £15million for a Championship striker.
If there was little fizz about the build-up, that was something Noah Chesmain’s shot in the 15th minute certainly didn’t lack. Chesmain, a left-back, was making his full Millwall debut – along with Kris Twardek – and had shown his attacking potential for the U21s last season. Here, with two defenders expecting him to go outside he cut in and unleashed a shot with his supposedly weaker right foot that hit Shaun Donnellan on the side off the head and stunned the young midfielder, who groggily walked off the pitch to regain his senses.
The average age of West Brom’s team was just under 18 but that told nothing of their physicality. Kane Wilson is 16 years old but has already made his first-team debut and was on the bench for the Baggies’ 0-0 draw with Middlesbrough last weekend. He was also involved in their best move of the first half when he advanced forward before drifting infield to find Donnellan whose cross to the far post was headed over by James Smith.
The most pressure either goalkeeper came under in the first half was when Jack Rose – the oldest player in James Shan’s side at 21 – punched away Gregg Wylde’s dangerous corner to the near post.
Later in the half Chesmain responded to the home fans exhortations to shoot, but he couldn’t keep his 30-yard effort down.
Whether it was the thoughts of a penalty shootout or more likely the realisation they ought to have been imposing themselves much better on such a young side, Millwall came out in the second half and started to more urgently find routes into attacking spaces.
Mahlon Romeo’s cross from the right was missed by Twardek in the 53rd minute before Shaun Williams fired a low shot wide. Still neither keeper had had his palms warmed.
Just when it seemed the game would need someone to conjure something special to make the breakthrough, Abdou popped up in the last place expected. He set himself up in the box with a deft touch and finished calmly past Rose from inside the six-yard box. It was his first goal in 33 games and thereafter the 1,973 home fans – there were 81 Baggies supporters – urged him to shoot whenever he got the ball.
Harris made a triple substitution in the 67th minute when he brought on Morison, Ben Thompson and David Worrall. Morison twice could have doubled the lead but a lob found the top of the net before he chested down Wylde’s cross to the back post only to shoot wide.
By now the energy had left West Brom’s youngsters but it was a harsh decision from referee Brendan Malone that gave Morison the chance to make it two. Thompson went down in the box and though he made no indication that he thought Brad Sweeney’s challenge warranted punishment, Malone pointed to the spot and Morison showed no mercy.
Andre Wright had a late chance to make it an awkward last few minutes for the home side but Tom King (above) was positioned well to make the save.
Image source: ©Millwall FC