MILLWALL scored inside a minute for the third time in their last four games on their way to defeating Nottingham Forest and moving to within a point of the Championship’s top six before Friday’s later kick-offs.
There were 29 seconds on the clock when Shaun Williams made a run into the box to glance Ben Marshall’s cross from the left past Forest goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon at the near post.
Barrie McKay went close to an equaliser for the visitors when he was first to the ball after Ben Watson’s shot deflected inside the box, and though the attacker succeeded in lifting his effort over Jordan Archer he also cleared the crossbar.
But Millwall were the dominant side, and they deserved their second as Marshall again crossed from the left, Steve Morison headed back across goal and Lee Gregory took a touch eight yards out before slamming home his 10th goal of the season and sixth of a profitable 2018.
Forest almost got a goal back in the 65th minute but Apostolos Vellios struck his effort over the bar after Archer had parried Ben Osborn’s shot to the striker’s feet.
And in the incessant rain Millwall saw the game out to stretch their unbeaten run to 13 league games, and their unbeaten run at The Den to 14 games in all competitions since November.
They are ticking them off. Seven games to go and there is no side outside the top six on such a charge. They go to Ipswich next and there is the sense that maybe, just maybe, things are falling into place, after Mick McCarthy announced this week he would be leaving at the end of the season. It would be understandable if that uncertainty affected the Ipswich players.
Millwall will hope it does, and Lions fans have snapped up the full allocation of away tickets.
It was a sold-out Den on Friday as they headed to South Bermondsey to see if a side that was unchanged for the seventh time in the last eight games could take advantage of the earlier kick-off to put a bit more heat on their rivals for a top-six place.
Forest boss Aitor Karanka made four changes, one of them McKay, who scored the only goal when these sides met on the opening day. Who could have imagined then the possibilities for Millwall now.
A fair number of Lions fans were still taking their seats when the hosts took the lead. George Saville had scored in 51 seconds in successive games recently, but Williams remarkably took 22 seconds fewer to give his side the perfect start.
Williams wondered this week what more he had to do to get into the Ireland squad, and this was another reminder that he has a strong case as he deftly headed home his first of the season, his second in three games against Forest.
On a slippery surface, Millwall were slick, moving the ball quickly and decisively and with more accuracy – or if Gregory had perhaps chosen longer studs – could have made more hay.
But the striker kept his footing when it most mattered 33 minutes in, taking up the ideal position knowing Morison was likely to do the sensible thing and head the ball back into the danger area. Gregory did the rest.
Marshall deserved a large slice of the credit, creating both goals when he could have taken the easier option and laid the ball back to a team-mate. There is such value in having a wide player so good on either foot, and Marshall has demonstrated that so ably in the last two games.
The temptation was to be greedy and take a peak at the goal difference, and there is every chance it could be the difference between sides duking it out for a place in the play-offs in May.
Forest also had nothing really to play for, and you wondered about their appetite if they conceded another.
Millwall’s hunger for this was illustrated in first-half injury-time when every one of their players bar Gregory was within 25 yards of Archer’s goal as Forest probed. When the ball was worked to Lee Tomlin is was Morison closing him down and Archer was easily able to collect the low shot.
That tactic of shooting from distance was clearly deliberate – given Millwall have conceded from outside their box on more occasions than they would have hoped this season – and it was mostly Tomlin taking aim, but often with errant accuracy as early in the second half he dragged another effort from range wide.
That always looked their most likely route back into the game and a large part of the reason the ball didn’t end up in the back of the Millwall net with 25 minutes left was because Archer’s parry arrived too quickly at the feet of Vellios, though the striker should still probably have scored.
The statistics were showing that Forest had almost double the number of shots as their opponents, but lies, damned lies and all that because few of them really worried Archer. True, Millwall were having to dig in, and Gregory was again having to run himself into the ground closing down opponents and trying to get possession.
The second half was typical Millwall, sitting in patiently before winning the ball back at the right time. They couldn’t add to their lead, but there was another boost as Aiden O’Brien came on for his first appearance since January.
The steam train – as Neil Harris has referred to this side and the run they are on – chugs on to Ipswich.
Image: Millwall FC