MILLWALL suffered a second successive League One defeat and are now five games without a win after Sheffield United took another giant stride towards the Championship with a 2-0 victory at Bramall Lane on Tuesday evening.
The Blades took the lead in the 16th minute through Jack O’Connell’s header from John Fleck’s corner, before Jordan Archer made a superb save to immediately prevent Millwall going 2-0 down when he tipped Paul Coutts’ drive over the bar.
Archer went down injured a couple of minutes later and had to go off, with Tom King coming on.
Chris Wilder’s side went 2-0 up in the 55th minute after Millwall failed to adequately clear and Kieron Freeman shot past King.
Lee Gregory then had Millwall’s best chance up to that point, but after running clear of the home defence he shot past goalkeeper Simon Moore but wide of the far post.
Shaun Williams had another late effort blocked but Millwall couldn’t rescue the game and this is the wrong time to be hitting a slump.
For all the talk of the FA Cup being a pleasant distraction, Millwall haven’t won any of their league games since that quarter-final defeat at Tottenham Hotspur.
Their season now comes down to the last month, and seven games to find a way back into the play-off places.
Sheffield United, on the other hand, are cruising back to the Championship. It wasn’t difficult to see why they had scored 74 goals this season before this game, and though it was evenly balanced in the first 15 minutes the home side showed in a 90-second spell why they are so effective.
Midfielder Mark Duffy, playing in front of Fleck and Coutts, was a constant menace, rapidly changing his position depending on where the ball was. If he wasn’t flitting in and out of the pockets of space around Williams and Ben Thompson or in front of Millwall’s defence, he was darting in behind.
He was involved in the period of pressure that lead to O’Connell’s goal. It was a devastating spell, with first Byron Webster having to head away from danger before Tony Craig made two excellent blocks. From a third corner in just over a minute, O’Connell powered a header past Archer.
Millwall were almost two down before another minute had elapsed, but Archer sprung high to his right to divert Coutts’ left-footed shot that was destined for the top corner behind. Whether it was there Archer did the damage or from a goal-kick a short time later, he was soon slumped on the turf and from his reaction going off you would have to wonder if that is the end of his season given he missed six games after injuring his quad last month.
That stoppage disrupted Sheffield United’s flow, and it was Millwall threatening next when Jed Wallace – who started just off Lee Gregory in a 4-4-1-1 – sprinted past Jake Wright only to be crudely hacked down. It was cynical, and perhaps Wright was lucky to only see yellow. From Shane Ferguson’s free-kick Jake Cooper headed over.
There was then something of a novelty for Millwall fans as Neil Harris switched to a 3-5-2 to match the opponents, Mahlon Romeo and Ferguson the wing-backs flanking Webster, Cooper and Craig, with Wallace behind Gregory and Fred Onyedinma.
Onyedinma was taken off just six minutes into the second half, with Steve Morison coming on. Wallace tested Moore from a free-kick but it was straight at the goalkeeper.
Four minutes later the Blades doubled their lead. There was an element of Millwall contributing to their own problems, first when O’Connell got in front of Morison and kept the ball in before combining with Duffy and sprinting into the box. It looked like the threat had ended when he lost the ball, but Millwall failed to clear and Duffy set up Freeman for a curled finish past King.
Wilder’s side were four wins from confirming promotion to the Championship – where they haven’t played since 2010-11 – and they certainly look like a side in a hurry. Again, their pressure was coming in sustained spells, as Fleck fired just wide.
Millwall switched back to a four-man defence when Aiden O’Brien came on for Craig. With 17 minutes left, Gregory, who had had so few opportunities for a run on goal, was suddenly through from Wallace’s pass. Moore came rushing out, but Gregory could only scoop the ball wide.
Millwall did finally look urgent on the ball, but it all felt too late. Still, it could have been 2-1 when a chance fell to Williams eight yards out, but he tried to be too precise by placing the ball in the bottom corner and Chris Basham stuck out a leg to block.
Image: Millwall FC