IT was fifth time lucky for Millwall, as their first win of the Championship season arrived in emphatic fashion with a 4-0 thrashing of one of the pre-season favourites for promotion, Norwich City.
Millwall were 3-0 up by half-time against a Norwich team that started well but were shocked by how clinically their hosts struck.
Lee Gregory put Millwall ahead in the 15th minute for his first of the season, before within two minutes George Saville got his second since his summer move from Wolves.
Norwich thought they were back in it when Nelson Oliveira’s shot looked destined for the bottom corner, until Jordan Archer made an excellent save.
And, three minutes before half-time, Jed Wallace made it 3-0 when he planted a low shot from the edge of the box past Norwich goalkeeper Angus Gunn.
Millwall continued to bully and dominate their opponents, sitting deep and striking with rapid thrusts on the break. And it didn’t flatter them when Shaun Hutchinson scored a fourth when he rose at the back post to thump a header past Gunn from Shaun Williams'corner. The aggression and decisiveness of it summed up his and Millwall’s display.
A minute later, Ryan Tunnicliffe came on for his league debut as Gregory went off to an ovation, and Steve Morison, against one of his former teams, was seen smiling on the touchline with David Livermore as he took on water on a warm afternoon at The Den.
This was almost an exact playing-out of the scenario Harris and a number of players had described before and in the early part of the season: an arguably superior technical team looking to dictate and set the tempo, but perhaps underestimating their less heralded opponents.
Morison had suggested after they had collected just two points from four games despite dominating each of them that they might create one chance this weekend and nick a 1-0 win. He was wrong, as Millwall continued their hugely encouraging start but this time took their chances.
Not that Norwich didn’t have theirs, and this was by far Archer’s best performance in quite some time as he made a number of impressive saves.
By the final whistle, Norwich were completely deflated, as Lions fans rose to applaud their team off the pitch.
Earlier, on his 250th appearance, Morison, three days shy of his 34th birthday, headed on Williams’ long pass to Gregory – 29 today – and he took his first chance of the afternoon to finish low under Gunn. It must have confounded Norwich, after they had looked so slick and threatening, that they were beaten by something so simple, so typical of this Millwall side.
They should have known what they were in for, but it seemed they were completely unprepared for Gregory running off his strike partner.
It quickly got worse. Wallace pounced on hesitation at the back to play Gregory through in the box. He pulled his pass behind Aiden O’Brien, but the forward re-adjusted, spotted Saville backing up the play and laid off the ball to the midfielder who finished low for his second goal of the season.
This was a game that wasn’t fitting the previous stories in the league this season: missed chances at the attacking end and the opponents’ first shot on target finding the net. Three times in 10 minutes Archer saved his side, the pick of them in the 24th minute when Oliveira turned quickly on the edge of the box to snap in a shot that Archer reacted to to push around the post. Archer was called up by Scotland during the week, and this was international-class goalkeeping.
Six minutes before the break Gregory’s confidence was illustrated when he tried a bicycle kick from James Meredith’s throw-in, but it was too close to Gunn.
But Gunn was beaten for a third time in the 42nd minute, Wallace advancing towards the box as the Canaries back four back-pedalled and firing a low shot inside the goalkeeper’s right-hand post.
Gunn was almost picking the ball out of the back of his net two minutes into the second half, but from Conor McLaughlin’s cross O’Brien’s shot was deflected onto the crossbar.
Norwich were still making the same mistakes they were before the break, losing the ball in the Millwall half and leaving themselves susceptible on the counter. Byron Webster brilliantly won a tackle before delightfully drifting a pass over Russell Martin to Gregory, but the defender recovered his position to make a block. Ivo Pinto was next to prevent Gregory adding to his tally, almost putting through his own net from O’Brien’s cross.
Norwich boss Daniel Farke then decided to act as his side were in danger of being blown away, and after James Husband had been booked for a cynical foul on Gregory as the forward was about to slip Wallace in. Christoph Zimmermann and Marco Stierpermann came on, and moment later Josh Murphy sent Wes Hoolahan through on goal, but Archer made another impressive save.
If it wasn’t already, it was all over in the 72nd minute when Hutchinson scored his third goal for the club, Millwall wrapping up their first league win this season in some style.
Image: Millwall FC