STEVE Morison scored a brace as Millwall beat Charlton at The Den on Wednesday night to extend their unbeaten run against their south London rivals to nine games.
Aiden O’Brien headed Millwall in front in the 42nd minute before two minutes later Morison volleyed home Shaun Williams’ long pass.
Nicky Ajose halved the deficit four minutes after half-time when he beat Jordan Archer with a low shot from inside the box after Ademola Lookman had set him up.
Morison got his second on the hour when after a slick Millwall move he fired low into the corner past Dillon Phillips who got a hand to the ball but couldn’t keep it out.
Millwall haven’t lost to Charlton in over 20 years, but Karl Robinson’s side will get the chance early in 2017 to end that run. On this evidence, however, there is a clear gap in quality between the teams.
Neil Harris said this week that Millwall have been close to the level he expects, and this result will give them the belief that they can replicate last season’s post-Christmas form when they surged into the top six.
After hinting he would make changes following the 3-0 defeat to Scunthorpe last Saturday, Harris handed Shaun Cummings his first league start since January 30. With Byron Webster recovered from a hamstring problem and Shaun Hutchinson starting consecutive league games for the first time this season, it meant Tony Craig shifted to left-back.
It was the first time this season that Harris could pick his first-choice side, and there were moments in the first half that illustrated what Millwall have missed this season after having had to change the defensive make-up so often.
Craig certainly looks more comfortable at left-back but it was Webster who showed how crucial his reading of the game is when he headed away a dangerous cross from right-back Ezri Konsa from in front of Archer.
Millwall had been the marginally better side for most of the opening period, but there were few players willing to take the chance to pass the ball into midfield, which resulted in a lot of long and inaccurate punts forward.
The home side should have gone in front in the 11th minute but, in a two-on-one situation, Lee Gregory passed behind O’Brien when he could have left the attacker with just goalkeeper Phillips to beat. For Charlton, who lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation with Josh Magennis the lone striker, Lookman looked most dangerous, but he couldn’t beat Archer with one shot from outside the box before he fired another well over.
And when it seemed Harris would have to ask his players at half-time to step up the intensity, the home side struck. One of the reasons Cummings was in the side ahead of Mahlon Romeo is his ability to strike first-time crosses, and when Fred Onyedinma teed him up before the break the right-back swerved a delivery to O’Brien at the back post. The header took a touch off a defender but it was certainly O’Brien’s goal, his 10th of the season.
Perhaps Charlton, who had been getting more into the game, were still recovering from that setback when their defence left Morison completely free in the box. But the finish was superb and it underlined how important his recent absence has been and the threat that has been missing.
That comfortable base that five-minute period before the break had given Millwall was shaken four minutes into the second half and, as on Saturday, it was an opponent breaking the length of the pitch to score. Lookman was composed when he had to size up his options, and his square ball to Ajose gave the striker the perfect opportunity to get his side back into the game.
In fairness to Millwall they didn’t let that rock their composure, and their third goal was a well-crafted move after they had pinned Charlton back around their own box. O’Brien held the ball up well before Craig timed his run to give support and chip a cross into the box. The ball was behind his strikers but Onyedinma had anticipated it and after he passed inside to Morison the striker spun to beat Phillips from 10 yards.
Onyedinma could have helped extend the lead by squaring the ball to Morison when he got through in the inside-right channel, but it was difficult to blame the 20-year-old for taking on the chance himself and Jorge Teixeira got in the crucial block.
Charlton threatened little in the last quarter of the game, with the result sending Millwall up to 10th place in League One, four points off the play-off places with two home games to come before the end of the year.
Image source: ©Millwall FC