MILLWALL came from a goal down but lost 2-1 to Sheffield Wednesday as Jake Cooper was sent off late on at Hillsborough on Tuesday night.
Adam Reach put his side in front in the third minute before Tom Elliott – making his first league start for the club – equalised 10 minutes later with a clever finish at the back post.
Wednesday went back in front two minutes before half-time when striker Jordan Rhodes headed in Jacob Butterfield’s corner.
Early in the second half goalkeeper Keiren Westwood saved Shane Ferguson’s low effort.
The home side dropped deeper as the half went on, and Jed Wallace saw his shot blocked before Rhodes struck the post with a header.
Lions boss Neil Harris had rested Lee Gregory and Steve Morison for the fixture but sent on the pair as the away side chased a second equaliser.
But Wednesday continued to be a threat on the break and Jordan Archer sprung low to his left with four minutes left to keep out Butterfield’s low shot and keep Millwall within touching distance of a result.
Millwall, though, frustratingly never really got the ball into threatening positions for Gregory and Morison as they fell to a sixth league defeat of the season. And Cooper’s dismissal in injury-time after he picked up a second yellow card means he will miss Saturday’s game against Burton Albion.
A look at the statistics relating to this fixture would have been enough to spook Millwall fans and this result only continued the trend: the Lions had lost six successive matches on Halloween, while the Owls were unbeaten on October 31 in 12 games going back to 1953.
Harris made three changes to his side, intending to scare a Wednesday defence that showed three changes to their back four from their 1-1 draw with Barnsley on Saturday by picking pacey pair Elliott and Fred Onyedinma up front. It paid off 13 minutes in.
But not before the hosts had made a rapid start and they were ahead inside three minutes when Reach finished low past Archer from Morgan Fox's cross.
The pace of the contest didn’t relent and Barry Bannan saw his shot brilliantly tipped over by Archer before Elliott blocked Fox’s shot from the corner.
Carlos Carvalhal’s side then seemed to switch off, though, and suddenly Onyedinma was through on Westwood and when the forward’s shot was blocked Elliott was there at the back post to acrobatically turn the ball home.
The Owls were attacking with width and pace and with Ross Wallace moving off his position on the right wing it invited full-back Liam Palmer to get forward, and he tested Archer in the 25th minute with a shot to the near post that the goalkeeper batted away for a corner.
The movement of Onyedinma and Elliott was causing their opponents problems, and Onyedinma saw a shot deflected wide as the visitors seemed to have stemmed the flow of Wednesday attacks.
The pace had slowed and that’s what would have made the concession before the break all the more galling, especially as Rhodes barely had to jump eight yards out to get his head to Butterfield’s delivery. His confidence up, Rhodes then tried a bicycle in first-half added time that drifted just wide.
Millwall had a glorious chance to level for a second time six minutes into the second half when Wallace spotted Ferguson’s run behind Palmer. The winger seemed to stumble as he was about the shoot, and that fraction of a delay allowed Westwood to get closer to spread himself and make an impressive save.
An hour in and it was a more comfortable stop from Westwood, though he should have been more actively tested after Cooper had found himself free at the back post to get his head to Wallace’s free-kick.
Wednesday were content to sit back and snipe on the break, the clever movement of Rhodes and Gary Hooper creating space for Reach and Wallace to join in from the flanks. Carvalhal’s side weren’t doing anything radical, but it was effective and their ability to move the ball at pace and manoeuvre into crossing or shooting positions was always present.
With 24 minutes left Cooper strode forward into midfield and after finding Wallace he continued his run to take the return pass, but again Westwood was quick off his line and the ball ricocheted off the centre-back and wide.
Harris took off Onyedinma whose pace wasn’t as effective now against a deeper-lying home defence, with Gregory coming on.
Some neat play from Millwall outside Wednesday’s box saw George Saville flick the ball inside to Wallace, but he delayed as he tried to turn back on his right foot and Glenn Loovens was able to make the block and clear. The missed chances were mounting for Millwall.
Harris added to Millwall’s attacking options by sending on Aiden O’Brien and shifting Ferguson to left-back. The visitors forced a number of corners and free-kicks but still a second breakthrough wouldn’t come.
In fact it was the Owls who went the width of the post from adding a third, but Rhodes’ header bounced away off the woodwork.
Harris played his final hand by replacing Elliott with Morison, Steven Fletcher on at the other end for Hooper. Fletcher showed his nous by drawing a foul from Shaun Hutchinson as his side ate up time.
And they saw it out, Cooper’s red compounding Millwall’s misery and meaning they are down to just two fit centre-backs ahead of next weekend.
Image: Millwall FC