RYAN Tunnicliffe scored his first goal for Millwall to seal a 2-0 win over Birmingham at The Den on Saturday evening.
After a tight first half that saw Isaac Vassell going closest to breaking the deadlock, Millwall went in front two minutes into the second period when Maxime Colin diverted Steve Morison’s cross into his own net.
Morison almost doubled that lead in the 73rd minute but Tomasz Kuszcazk tipped his volley over the crossbar.
The Lions did go two up with 14 minutes left, and it was deserved, Tunnicliffe finding the back of the net after Kuszczak had saved substitute Tom Elliott’s low effort.
Tunnicliffe has big boots to fill in the absence of Shaun Williams, but even before his goal he showed he is well capable of it, playing neatly in midfield and locking that area down alongside George Saville.
It took a long time for the Lions to break the away side, but once they found a second they never gave the impression they would allow Birmingham a way back into the game.
It had been a damaging few weeks for Millwall with injuries, and they were looking to rebound at home from what Neil Harris in the match programme called their “poorest performance of the season” against Barnsley.
There was improvement last weekend at Brentford, but no points to show for it.
Millwall’s record in the last 20 years against Birmingham wasn’t promising: one win in 16 games after their last home victory over Blues, 2-0 in April 1996.
The Lions were bolstered by the return of Morison to the side, with Shane Ferguson dropping to the bench and Aiden O’Brien moving to his regular position on the left of midfield.
Harris had said there would be “added spice” in front of the Sky Sports cameras, and that was evident early on. Cheikh Ndoye – playing off Vassell up front but dropping back onto the toes of Morison when Millwall had a goal-kick – wrestled with Saville, before Morison and Michael Morrison battled aggressively for possession in a frantic opening.
It was mostly Millwall on the front foot in the opening half, but Kuszczak had little to do. Jordan Archer had nothing at all to do but was almost beaten a minute before the break when Vassell skidded a shot just wide of the far post.
There were moments of nice attacking play from Millwall in the first half, with the visitors content to play on the break. In the 11th minute Morison flicked Jake Cooper’s long free-kick to Lee Gregory who swivelled but shot wide of the near post.
Six minutes later Cooper directed Saville’s free-kick inside to O’Brien, but he couldn’t keep an instinctive flick low enough to bring Kuszczak into action.
Steve Cotterill’s side were proving awkward opponents, big and physical yet fleet-footed too on the counter-attack. Vassell probably should have done better than find Conor McLaughlin’s head when he had two team-mates making runs into the box in the 32nd minute before five minutes later Colin nudged a pass forward to Che Adams whose low cross evaded everyone.
Shaun Hutchinson showed quick reactions to clear after Jonathan Grounds’ free-kick from 22 yards threatened to spin into the path of a Birmingham player, before Vassell sent that effort just off target before the break. There was still time for a chance at the other end, but Morison flashed a first-time volley wide.
In the 47th minute Morison did superbly to get past Morrison before Colin beat his own goalkeeper under pressure from O’Brien who was ready to apply the final touch.
Blues responded with a positive spell and Archer made his first real save when he dealt with Adams’ shot that had taken a slight deflection on its way through a crowd.
A 64th-minute substitution by Cotterill almost immediately inspired, Jota coming on with Adams switching to the left and suddenly he was in on Archer who did well to save with his legs.
Wallace then pitched a ball over the top for Morison, who couldn’t get the better of Colin, and another imitation pass from Wallace to Gregory was brilliantly controlled with his head into his own path by the striker. He teed up O’Brien but the wide men drilled wide. Morison went closer after he had initially failed to control Wallace’s cross, and his improvised half-volley almost caught out Kuszczak.
That was Morison’s last act, and one of the first of his replacement, Elliott, was to combine with Gregory, who sent his new strike partner scurrying down the left as the hosts rapidly broke. Elliott cut inside and Kuszczak got down to make a save, but the ball rolled into the path of Tunnicliffe who calmly finished.
Birmingham forced three late corners, but Millwall saw out the game with authority to move up to 15th place in the Championship table.
Image: Millwall FC