MILLWALL dominated the first leg of their League One play-off semi-final against Scunthorpe on Thursday night but couldn’t find a breakthrough to take a lead to Glanford Park in three days.
Lee Gregory had the best chance as Millwall were the better side in the first half, but after Jed Wallace had put him through the striker shot straight at Joe Anyon.
Millwall were again on top the opening stages of the second half as Scunthorpe were forced back, and from a corner Byron Webster flung himself at the ball before Tony Craig shot over.
Iron midfielder Neal Bishop headed away another corner from right under his own crossbar as Millwall more urgently sought an opener.
Scunthorpe responded with their first spell of pressure in the second half, and they worked the ball to Josh Morris but he fired well over Jordan Archer’s crossbar from 30 yards.
Millwall then lost Shaun Cummings to injury, with Mahlon Romeo coming on, and maybe it was a measure of how much frustration the home side felt that their pressure wasn’t being rewarded that the replacement right-back shot wide from 35 yards rather than try to recycle possession.
The Lions will now have to score at Scunthorpe for the first time in three games under Neil Harris if they are to go through without needing penalties. On the evidence of this that won’t be easy against a dogged Iron side.
Wallace was back in Millwall's side after being ill last weekend and he crashed into a tackle early on and another that he’s not normally associated with in the 32nd minute. That was the period in which Millwall took a grip on the game, and an insight into Scunthorpe’s thinking could be taken from their strategy of bringing everyone back into their own box defending Millwall corners.
The Iron’s gameplan in open play was also obviously clear in the early stages. Strikers Paddy Madden and Ivan Toney aggressively closed down Millwall’s defenders, and that meant there was no proper supply to the front players. At one point Steve Morison seemed to be angrily suggesting to Tony Craig that he needed to get the ball forward more quickly. Scunthorpe knew Millwall were not a side that could play through them, so they had the flanks in successful lockdown.
Toney was then a little bit too aggressive in one collision with Byron Webster, a careless elbow warranting a booking for the on-loan Newcastle forward. It was his 16th of the season – three more than the number of goals he had scored.
Gregory has a significantly better ratio in that sense, and he had the chance to improve it in the 26th minute. It came from a mistake, Bishop failing to see Wallace in midfield. The Millwall winger was on the ball in a flash and transferred it to Gregory, whose clever movement had taken him in behind Scunthorpe’s defence. Perhaps he thought he had less time because he shot early but Anyon saved with his legs.
Scunthorpe defender Murray Wallace had already been spoken to by referee Andrew Madley for a tackle on Gregory, and Wallace took down the same player 25 yards out 10 minutes before half-time. Again, the referee warned the defender and the home support were unhappy there was still no yellow card. Millwall’s Wallace sent the free-kick low towards the near post, but goalkeeper Anyon took it at the second attempt.
Archer, by contrast, was virtually a spectator, apart from having to deal with a couple of trickily bouncing back-passes.
Just before the break Millwall threatened again and right-back Jordan Clarke didn’t quite look like he had his full bearings when he headed behind for a corner. It was Millwall’s fifth of the half, compared to none for their opponents, but Scunthorpe defended it again, if a little unsurely.
Millwall continued to increase the pressure on their opponents, who were defending stoutly, and often, it seemed, close to the edge of what was fair.
Iron defender Wallace was eventually booked, and his central defensive partner David Mirfin was lucky to get away with appearing to be continually holding Gregory.
Scunthorpe were proving far more resolute than on their last visit to The Den when they lost 3-1 in April, and there was rarely a time when a Millwall player was in possession with space to exploit. It was disciplined and it wasn't often that Stephen Dawson or Morris were venturing too far ahead of their full-backs.
Dawson did burst into the box but shot over as Scunthorpe seemed to sense there was something more in the tie. Archer finally had a save with 10 minutes left, but it was relatively comfortable as Morris hit a 30-yard free-kick straight at him.
Romeo then had to hustle quickly back to nick the ball off Toney who had darted into the box and opening up to shoot.
Millwall couldn’t force another effort on goal, as Scunthorpe’s defensive excellence gave them the edge to reach the final.
Image: Millwall FC