MILLWALL won for the first time in seven games as they kicked off a crucial month in style by defeating Sheffield United for the third successive season at The Den.
Lee Gregory gave the Lions a deserved early lead after the home side dominated the opening stages and they could have added to their advantage only to then find themselves level at 1-1 at the break following David Brooks’ clinical volleyed finish.
Gregory then turned provider to help Millwall go back in front when he picked out Mahlon Romeo and the defender scored his first goal of the season on his full Championship debut.
After providing two decisive moments Gregory was given a standing ovation when he went off in the 75th minute, his last act to cleverly win a free-kick to relieve the pressure on his side.
Millwall weren’t finished, and Jake Cooper made it a near-perfect afternoon when he nodded in Jed Wallace’s free-kick in the 88th minute.
This was another statement win, and by the same scoreline as their victory over Charlton last December that kicked off a long unbeaten run. It was certainly the ideal way to start the month with such a tough run of fixtures ahead.
Millwall had beaten Sheffield United here both times they had faced them under Neil Harris, but since a 2-1 win last August the Blades had lost just nine games out of 61 in the league.
Millwall were boosted by the return from suspension of Wallace, and Harris brought him straight back into the side. Romeo started for the first time in a regular league game since April, in place of the suspended Conor McLaughlin, while Gregory was recalled to partner Steve Morison up front.
Morison and Gregory, in particular, played in the early stages as if they were smarting from recent criticism over a lack of goals.
The Blades seemed to aid Millwall by playing a high defensive line, and Gregory thought he was through on goal only for the offside flag to halt his run.
Wallace, Gregory and Morison were signalling their intent and the trio combined to create another chance in a vibrant opening period. After Morison scooped a pass over the visiting defence to Wallace the winger helped the ball on to Gregory but he was crowded out.
But in the 15th minute a different variation of the combination paid off. Wallace picked up the ball on the right and cleverly cut inside a covering Blades player to find Morison, who switched the play back to his striker partner. Gregory still had some work to do but spun away from Jack O’Connell to fire low into the far corner.
A team with the attacking flair of Sheffield United were unlikely to be kept quiet for long, and they were causing Millwall problems down the right. Twice Chris Basham got behind Shane Ferguson, first Jordan Archer saving Brooks’ low shot and then a low cross flashed across the Lions box with no visiting player close enough to get a decisive touch.
Seven minutes from the break Millwall almost doubled their advantage, but Jamal Blackman produced a top-class save to tip away George Saville’s half-volley.
Four minutes after that Chris Wilder’s side were level. From a corner Shaun Hutchinson ran out of defence to give Gregory the option of a pass, but the defender was dispossessed, the ball eventually falling to the last player Millwall would have wanted. Mark Duffy then showed the quality his side possesses by clipping the ball to the back post to Brooks who fired a left-footed volley high past Archer into the top corner.
It was the Blades that started the second half with the same kind of attacking intent that Millwall had started the game. Basham’s crosses from the right were still a menace, and Cooper had to stick out a leg to block John Fleck’s shot.
Ten minutes into the second half the change in the momentum of the game was illustrated when Saville intercepted on the edge of his own box but with few options in front of him he tried to hit a long pass towards Gregory and the ball went out of play, much to the striker’s frustration.
By that stage Harris had switched to 3-5-2 to match the opponents, Ferguson and Romeo the wing-backs and Wallace in an attacking midfield role.
It still felt like it would take a moment of individual brilliance to break down the visitors again, and it was Gregory who provided it in the 66th minute. There are hardly any harder working strikers in the division that Gregory, so it was no surprise to find him sliding in to win the ball back for his side, but the real quality came in the next movement when he immediately got to his feet to slide a perfect ball behind Enda Stevens to Romeo, who gave the impression he was used to being in that position with a cool dinked finish over Blackman. Romeo had certainly appeared to be enjoying himself more in a slightly more advanced position. Credit, too, to Harris for making the tactical switch.
Ben Thompson came on for Gregory and won a free-kick that almost led to a third, Morison flicking on Ferguson’s delivery towards Cooper but he couldn’t get the crucial touch.
Blackman then appeared to carry the ball out of his area under pressure from Saville but the goalkeeper got away with it.
But he was beaten for a third time late on, Cooper’s header bouncing down off the crossbar and Millwall had to wait a couple of seconds before the linesman indicated the ball had crossed the line.
Millwall’s wait for a win is also over, and it comes at the perfect time.
Image: Millwall FC