MILLWALL won their third successive game as they held off a late fightback from nine-man Gillingham in a thrilling clash at The Den on Friday night.
Lee Gregory put the Lions ahead in the 12th minute when he anticipated Steve Morison’s flick on before beating Gills goalkeeper Stuart Nelson for his 10th goal of the season.
Gillingham dominated possession for most of the first period but didn’t really seriously stretch Jordan Archer.
In the 41st minute Gillingham wanted a penalty when they claimed Bradley Dack’s shot had struck Byron Webster’s arm.
Five minutes after the break it was the home side looking for a spot-kick when Aiden O’Brien appeared to be bundled over in the penalty area.
In the 63rd minute, Scott Wagstaff’s low drive from outside the box was saved by Archer, before Millwall broke and after Fred Onyedinma was initially denied by Nelson the attacker poked the ball home from a position lying on the ground.
Three minutes later left-back Paul Konchesky was sent off for a second bookable defence after hauling down Onyedinma, but Dack pulled a goal back in the 76th minute.
Archer saved from Dack as 10-man Gills poured forward, before Millwall relieved the growing pressure and Ben Thompson sent a long-range drive just over after Gillingham had half-cleared a corner.
Gregory almost extended Millwall’s lead late on before Dack’s sending off for a second yellow card left his side down to nine men.
It might have been an awkward tussle at times, but this fixture drew Millwall’s year to a close on a high on a night when the fog closed right in over the stands at The Den. But if conditions in south London weren’t exactly clear, a clearer picture has certainly emerged over the past three games what Neil Harris sees is his first-choice side.
The Lions boss was able to name an unchanged starting XI for the third successive game after the impressive wins over Charlton and Swindon.
Millwall started the contest finely tuned in. When Gillingham got a throw-in on the right early on, Morison ran back and took up a position in the centre of the box to head away Ryan Jackson’s long delivery.
But that also served to illustrate how deep Millwall were dropping to close down attacking spaces for the away side. At one point, after a long period of Gills possession, Millwall had 10 players around their own box and it was Morison again making the clearance.
Before all that Morison and Gregory had sketched the perfect illustration of what makes them so effective. It was again a minimalist approach – but only after Shaun Hutchinson had seen a header cleared off the line for the third time in two games. No matter, Shaun Cummings eventually returned the ball to the edge of the box, Morison headed it on and Gregory dispatched it past Nelson.
Gregory looked particularly sharp and had the ball in the net again soon after, but the offside flag had gone up.
Gillingham, though, patiently worked their way back into the game with Dack playing as one of the three in Justin Edinburgh’s 4-2-3-1 but popping up everywhere to cause Millwall some concern. He saw a couple of shots blocked – one of them that penalty shout – while Archer saved another long-range effort from Jake Hessenthaler.
At the end of the half Millwall finally worked the ball up the pitch but O’Brien fired an effort off a defender before Thompson blasted over.
Gillingham again looked threatening after the break but a three-minute spell just after the hour-mark looked like it would decisively settle the contest. Onyedinma had already had a lively start to the second half and Morison was throwing his hands up in frustration when the 20-year-old failed to release him after he had taken the ball into the Gillingham half.
There seemed to be more frustration in the 63rd minute when Onyedinam got through one-on-one with Nelson. The goalkeeper did well to save, but Onyedinma had the wherewithal to stab out a leg and flick the ball home in front of a startled Gillingham defence.
In the 66th minute Konchesky seemed to seal his own side’s fate by diving in on Onyedinma when he had already been booked. But Millwall could never switch off around the energetic and astute Dack and after he had made it 2-1 he was darting into the box in the 83rd minute and drawing a save from Archer with a thunderous left-footed drive.
Millwall’s endeavour, and their desperation, in defending their one-goal lead was summed up approaching the 90th minute when Gregory sprinted back into his own half to stop a Gillingham attack, and the striker was booked. Minutes later he almost added a third but Nelson saved with his legs.
Gillingham continued to press, and Webster twice had to head away, before Dack stopped a counter attack and referee Tim Robinson brought a breathless match to an end.
Image source: ©Millwall FC