SHAUN Hutchinson scored his first goal for Millwall as they defeated Shrewsbury 2-1 on Tuesday night to keep their play-off bid on track.
Millwall took control of a scrappy game in the 35th minute when Steve Morison set up Byron Webster who finished first-time to the far corner for his first goal since the opening day of the season.
Mahlon Romeo almost scored an own goal early in the second half before Hutchinson finished from close range to make it 2-0 13 minutes from time.
Shaun Whalley gave his side hope when he fired low past Tom King in the last minute, but Millwall held on.
The win moved Millwall level with sixth-placed Southend, who lost 1-0 at home against Bolton after former Lion Mark Beevers' late winner.
Scunthorpe are now very much in range and there are just three points separating third from sixth. It all sets up an intriguing Easter clash with Fleetwood.
Shrewsbury are heading the other direction despite their late rally. There was a banner reading ‘The Spirit of 79’ in one of the Greenhous Meadow stands remembering their promotion to Division Two and run to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup for the first time that year.
There were 14,000 fans at what was then Gay Meadow to see Graham Truner’s team seal promotion. They don’t get those numbers these days, and Millwall arrived here with both teams fighting to achieve very different goals this season.
Fighting was very much the operative word in the first half as both sides gave away no space in midfield and you could have counted on one hand the most number of consecutive passes in any move.
Both tried to hit their front men early. Morison fired wide twice before in the 32nd minute he hit a shot high over the bar. At the other end Freddie Ladapo sent one effort even higher into the chilly Shropshire sky. It was difficult to see anyone imprinting any quality on it.
Jed Wallace did his best, finally getting a chance to stretch his legs, but Morison at the back post couldn’t reach his low centre.
The low quality made the identity of the first goalscorer and the way he finished his chance even more unexpected. The build-up wasn’t, Tony Craig sending a long ball into the box towards Morison. When he chested it down it was Webster lurking, and he spun to shoot low to Jayson Leutwiler’s right and into the bottom corner. Three Millwall mainstays involved, and the Lions were ahead.
That stretched the game and finally there was some space in which Millwall could keep the ball. The goal had also seemed to knock any confidence out of Shrewsbury, who hadn’t won any of their previous five games. They weren’t helped either when Joe Riley went off just after the goal was scored, Jack Grimmer coming on. It was certainly suitably timed to sum up the mood.
Shrewsbury looked like they had had a reminder about how perilous their position was at the break because they started the second half much more urgently. Stefan Payne’s low shot may have been weak and straight at Tom King, but it was more of a statement than the feeble effort in the last 10 minutes of the first half.
This was a completely different side now and maybe only Romeo could say how close he was to putting through his own net when he mis-kicked Whalley’s cross a yard in front of his goal and somehow the ball went over the bar. From the corner centre-back Aristote Nsiala headed wide.
Away hearts must have skipped a beat again in the 53rd minute when Alex Rodman went down as Webster stretched for the ball, but even the Shrews players seemed to realise who the guilty party was as referee Mark Haywood reached for the yellow card and booked the winger.
Rodman was involved again after King came for a cross that was too much of a stretch to claim, but Millwall had enough bodies in the way to clear the ball.
Shrewsbury’s early second-half pep had gone, and Neil Harris sent on Fred Onyedinma for Aiden O’Brien to ensure the home side would be vulnerable to a counterattack if they pushed players forward. Shrewsbury gave the impression though that they were running out of ideas, and Grimmer’s cross from the right that floated over King’s crossbar gave credence to that feeling.
Paul Hurst’s side then lost substitute Tyler Roberts, after he went down off the ball with Shane Ferguson standing over a free-kick 25 yards out. With Stephen Humphrys barely on the pitch, Ferguson’s free-kick caused panic, Morison’s shot was half-blocked, and Hutchinson swivelled to score his first goal in his 15th game since joining the Lions from Fulham last summer.
Whalley had a chance to reduce the deficit with six minutes left but blasted a volley over the bar from 10 yards from Humphrys' chipped pass.
Whalley finally got his reward in the 90th minute, but it was too late to save his side.
Image: Millwall FC