MILLWALL fell to a third successive League One defeat as Port Vale made it six wins at home in a row this season with a rampant performance at Vale Park on Tuesday night.
Port Vale started brightly and Alex Jones put them ahead when he finished from close range in the fourth minute.
David Worrall went close to an equaliser but his shot from outside the box fizzed just wide. Steve Morison then forced Jak Alnwick into a full-length save when he headed Shane Ferguson’s cross towards goal.
At the other end Martin Paterson broke free in the box but Jordan Archer saved well at his near post.
Ferguson left Alnwick flat-footed with a snapshot from outside just after the break, but the goalkeeper was relieved to see the ball shave his left-hand post.
Port Vale doubled their lead just before the hour mark when a corner was cleared to the edge of the box, and Sam Foley's first-time shot was turned in by Paterson.
Lions boss Neil Harris brought on Shaun Williams and Gregg Wylde for Calum Butcher and Joe Martin and moments later Wylde crossed but Lee Gregory headed over.
Port Vale immediately responded to force two corners, and from the second Remie Streete headed home from Sam Hart’s delivery.
Williams found himself free at the back post in the 74th minute but he appeared to be taken by surprise that Ferguson’s free-kick had reached him through a crowded box, and the ball came off his right shin before going wide. Two minutes later the home fans were on their feet as substitute Rigino Cicilia raced through, but with only Archer to beat he slid the ball wide.
Millwall got a goal back after Jimmy Abdou’s shot hit Anthony Grant on the arm, and Gregory scored his second penalty in two games and his third of the season.
But it was too late to rescue the game, and the result means Millwall haven’t won in five league games since beating Chesterfield 3-1 on August 27.
They went into the game short the goal-scoring threat of Aiden O’Brien after he suffered a knee injury in the 3-2 defeat to Rochdale on Saturday. Harris named Worrall as his replacement. There were also two changes in central midfield, one enforced. Butcher came in for the suspended Ben Thompson and Abdou was picked ahead of Williams.
Martin was recalled after serving a one-game ban which meant Tony Craig moved back into the centre of a defence with the second-worst record in the division before Tuesday night’s game.
And it took just four minutes for it to leak another goal. Port Vale boss Bruno Ribeiro had set his side up in a fluid 4-3-3 formation with Grant sitting deep in midfield. The five players in front of him were free to rotate, and Millwall initially struggled to deal with their interchanges. When Ben Purkiss crossed from the right, Jones took a touch and flashed a shot past Archer from 10 yards. It was the fifth successive game Millwall had conceded the first goal.
But while Port Vale looked strong going forward, there was a looseness about their defensive organisation that offered Millwall hope. When Grant got the ball close to his own goal, instead of clearing he tried a back-pass from inside his own six-yard box. Port Vale cleared the corner but it was a moment that illustrated this is a team of two halves: threatening going forward but threatening to undo that good work with defensive lapses.
This was also a game with plenty of feistiness, with six yellow cards in the first half, Port Vale leading the indiscretion table 4-2. It was a surprise that 22 players finished the game, and referee Jeremy Simpson was arguably too trigger happy. The home support had loudly let him know they shared that feeling as he and his officials walked off at the break.
Millwall started the second half in positive fashion, and after Ferguson had gone close Morison headed a cross down to Worrall, but the winger couldn’t make a decent connection. Alnwick also looked uncomfortable under crosses, but Millwall couldn’t get anything tangible despite forcing a number of corners.
Instead, Port Vale went 2-0 ahead through that route, and Harris will perhaps ask why Foley wasn’t picked up as he lurked just outside the box in the 59th minute. The fact his shot found Paterson rather than a defender will only have deepened the sense the Lions’ defensive luck is out.
There was little unlucky about Streete making it three when he was left free in the box to plant Hart’s corner past Archer. It was the third game in a row Millwall had conceded three goals and there must be serious questions over what corrective measures are needed to stop the defensive raggedness.
Harris’ side did pull a goal back in the 84th minute when Gregory finished from the spot in typically emphatic fashion, but that was as good as it got.
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