MILLWALL consolidated their place in League One’s top six and extended their unbeaten run to 12 games in all competitions after goals from Aiden O’Brien and Jake Cooper gave them a comfortable 2-0 win over Port Vale at The Den on Tuesday night.
Millwall created a number of early chances before O’Brien put them ahead in the 26th minute when he shot low past goalkeeper Leo Fasan for his 12th goal of the season.
Steve Morison missed a penalty six minutes into the second half after Kjell Knops had fouled Jed Wallace in the box, before Jake Cooper scored his second goal in three games when he nodded home Shaun Williams’ corner at the far post.
Millwall were rarely threatened by a Port Vale side obviously lacking in confidence. It might be possible to count the shots on one hand Jordan Archer has had to save over the course of the last five games when Millwall haven’t conceded a goal. It’s now eight hours of playing time since Archer was beaten by Bradford’s James Meredith on January 21.
Such was Millwall’s dominance, and for all the understandable talk about not looking ahead to the fifth round of the FA Cup against Leicester City at the weekend, Lions boss Neil Harris was able to take off Fred Onyedinma and Morison with 18 minutes to go and give Harry Smith his first appearance since December 10.
O’Brien departed four minutes later and it’s hard to see how the home side’s confidence could be higher for a tilt at the Premier League Champions.
Millwall had failed to win any of their previous four league games on a Tuesday this season, losing three of them, including one to a Port Vale side in September that looked assured under the promising early stewardship of Bruno Ribeiro.
That result put Vale fifth, yet Ribeiro was gone less than three months later with Michael Brown – who named himself on the bench here – taking over as caretaker manager.
So any Millwall complacency, even on the back of an 11-match unbeaten run, should have been virtually non-existent. Millwall also wouldn’t have needed to be reminded that struggling Walsall came here two weeks ago and held them scoreless.
There never seemed a possibility Port Vale could do the same and it was obvious from early on they were going to struggle with the pace of Onyedinma and the movement of Morison, who targeted Nathan Smith’s channel with the 20-year-old defender struggling to find a way to deal with the Lions’ top scorer.
From the seventh minute it was clear that Onyedinma was in the mood to torment the away defence when he turned in the box before sending a low ball across goal that evaded everyone. Two minutes later Millwall almost scored a stunning opener when Onyedinma charged down the right to pull the ball back for O’Brien, whose shot with the outside of his boot fizzed just wide.
Port Vale had only one shot on target in the first half but Archer easily saved from JJ Hooper.
The flow was all in one direction and when another Onyedinma dart down the right yielded a corner, Morison headed straight at Fasan. Morison then majestically took down Tony Craig’s long ball forward before seeing his shot blocked by Remie Streete.
It was no surprise that Millwall opened the scoring a minute later, O’Brien again showing his instincts in the opposition box to fire under Fasan after Onyedinma’s effort had been deflected to him.
Onyedinma then almost added to the lead in the 32nd minute, but headed the ball at Fasan from Morison’s cross from the right.
Valiants centre-back Streete was offering the most defensive resistance, but he had to go off in the 34th minute. He initially looked okay to continue after Byron Webster had blocked his attempted shot on the edge of the box, but slumped to the turf in his own area minutes later and had to be replaced with Scott Tanser.
From their fifth corner of the half Millwall could have doubled their lead, but O’Brien fired over after Morison and Cooper had attempted to shoot when a Williams corner caused panic in the box.
Millwall didn’t let up and soon after the break Morison was forcing Fasan to hurry off his line to clear, before the goalkeeper guessed right to prevent Millwall’s vice-captain making it 2-0. It didn’t matter. From the resulting corner Cooper powered home his header, despite the efforts to keep it out of a defender behind the line.
Still Millwall wouldn’t relent. Onyedinma saw a close-range shot saved by Fasan and then the goalkeeper did even better to keep out Wallace’s drive after he had been played in by O’Brien’s reverse pass.
Port Vale’s one retort had been a long-range strike from Tyler Walker that went wide, but otherwise Brown's side understandably looked like a team with just one away win all season and looked more and more ragged as Wallace, Onyedinma, Morison and O’Brien continually turned their back four.
With six minutes left substitutes Shane Ferguson and David Worrall combined but Fasan palmed away the latter’s header.
It was the last of 18 efforts on goal he had to confront as Millwall's focus turned to targeting another big cup scalp in four days.
Image: Millwall FC