TOM Elliott scored twice on his first competitive start for Millwall to ensure passage to the second round of the EFL Cup after a 2-0 win over Stevenage at The Den.
The win didn’t come without cost, however, as both Jake Cooper and Lee Gregory went off and could be doubts to face Bolton Wanderers in the Championship on Saturday.
Millwall ultimately comfortably progressed, but it wasn’t the straightforward night the score suggested and the home side had Tom King to thank for a double-stop in the 32nd minute before Cooper went off with Gregory coming on to replace him.
Elliott had Millwall’s best chance of a wretchedly poor first half but headed off target after reaching Fred Onyedinma’s cross before goalkeeper Joe Fryer.
Gregory shot wide before the break and from a similar position after the restart Stevenage’s Mark McKee couldn’t test King.
Elliott eased some of the nerves in the ground when he headed the Lions in front in the 54th minute, before George Saville quickly almost made it two but Fryer saved.
Fryer was beaten again in the 67th minute when Elliott got his second from Shane Ferguson's cross to the back post.
Lions boss Neil Harris named just two of the players who started at Nottingham Forest on Friday in his line-up against the League Two side.
But he was forced into a reshuffle when Cooper stayed down after Stevenage had forced those first-half chances that King kept out.
Gregory came on, Onyedinma went to the left of midfield, Ferguson to left-back and Tony Craig to the centre of defence to partner Byron Webster.
The Lions’ best early chance had fallen to Cooper, but he couldn’t beat Fryer with a header from David Worrall’s corner.
Fryer was excellent when these sides met in pre-season, but he didn’t have a lot to do before the break in front of the couple of hundred Stevenage fans who had made the trip to south London.
Stevenage should have gone ahead when Alex Samuel found space on the right to cross, but Chris Whelpdale and then Matt Godden put their efforts too close to King, though the goalkeeper deserves credit for his sound positioning.
King’s contribution was Millwall’s most impressive in the first half, and of the other players looking to break into the first-choice side only Mahlon Romeo was making an impact. Much of the play was far too sloppy, and it wasn’t difficult to guess why Harris kept them in the dressing room for a longer period at the break.
It was Stevenage who actually looked sharper again early in the second half, Joe Martin aiming a cross to the far post that Webster had to cut out.
Onyedinma and Elliott had started up front together but after Onyedinma moved to the right it was from there the goal was created. Martin had probably faced Onyedinma many times in training in the same situation. The full-back didn’t want to commit to a tackle in the box and stood off his former team-mate, allowing Onyedinma to stand up a cross and Elliott attacked the ball on the six-yard box to head home.
That took the pressure off the home side, and they were moving the ball a lot better, particularly on the right through Onyedinma and Romeo. They combined with Elliott who dropped deep to link up the play, before the ball was eventually worked to Ferguson on the left and the Northern Ireland international delivered a perfect cross to the back post that the striker headed in from close range.
Gregory then went straight down the tunnel when he went off. Calum Butcher came on to play just behind Elliott before Shaun Williams was introduced for Saville, who had been excellent again.
Stevenage tried to rally and substitute Danny Newton skilfully made space for an effort from the edge of the box with ten minutes left but he couldn’t keep his shot down.
Worrall and Onyedinma had injury-time chances to make it three and King saved from Newton as Millwall made it through to the next round.
Image: Millwall FC