MILLWALL secured a crucial victory at The Den on Saturday to move three points clear of Bristol City and keep pace with Middlesbrough in the race for a top-six Championship place.
Jed Wallace fired Millwall in front in the 11th minute with his sixth goal of the season before a minute into the second half he tried to chip Frank Fielding but his effort didn’t have enough height to beat the goalkeeper.
There was a scare at the other end moments later when Joe Bryan drifted a free-kick to the far post but Eros Pisano couldn’t connect a couple of yards out when any decent contact would have had Jordan Archer worried.
In the 52nd minute Millwall went 2-0 up, Steve Morison matching the excellence of Wallace’s finish by curling left-footed past Fielding.
It was Millwall who pressed to add a third as they were so in control against a side that had spent most of the season in the play-off spots.
The Lions’ unbeaten league run is now 15 games, their longest sequence at this level since 1971. But it’s 1988 Millwall fans will be thinking of, the last – and only time – their team reached the top flight of English football.
It was only goals scored that separated these sides before kick-off, both with the exact same 16-14-10 record this season.
The unlikeliness of Millwall’s top-six challenge could be framed in relation to just how far they were behind the Robins in December – 20 points on Boxing Day.
Millwall’s consistency in 2018 has been partly because they have managed to avoid injuries and suspensions.
It was the same team for the ninth time in 10 games and by this stage the players know each other’s movements. When Ben Marshall got possession on the left wing 11 minutes in he knew there would be a chance Wallace had made a run from the right to join the play. The pass inside was simple, the finish from Wallace anything but as he took a touch just inside the left corner of the box before curling a sumptuous effort past Fielding into the goalkeeper’s top left corner.
Bristol City didn’t conjure anything to trouble Jordan Archer in the first half in the kind of structured game both managers Neil Harris and Bristol City had anticipated.
The pattern of the game was predictable: City having the ball for long spells but unable to break down Millwall, Marshall and Wallace seemingly tethered to full-backs James Meredith and Mahlon Romeo before the break not allowing the visitors any space to attack the flanks.
It was a tight, cagey contest and the fact that the loudest applause – apart from that which followed the goal – was for Lee Gregory chasing seemingly lost causes before gaining possession illustrated the lack of goalmouth action.
The Robins had almost 70 per cent possession in the first half but were limited to shots outside the box.
Shaun Williams tried his luck from 40 yards in the 31st minute but Fielding collected the low effort. Wallace also had the chance to move forward after the Lions had won back possession high up the pitch, the winger’s low shot too close to the goalkeeper.
With Middlesbrough in sixth leading, Millwall couldn’t afford to slip up and Morison’s goal went some way more to ensuring that. It was another brilliant effort, Gregory deserving so much credit for a deft back-heel to find his strike partner who delayed as Pisano slid in to try to block before curving the ball beautifully around Fielding. Millwall’s front pair are deservedly praised for their work rate and how difficult they make it for defences, but this was a demonstration of their more subtle, but devastating, qualities.
All City could summon in response was a shot from Milan Djuric that the substitute sliced wide. He should have done better after one of the few times Millwall had given their opponents space. The Dockers Stand enjoyed it, delighting in telling the away end what they thought of their side with language of the industry that was matching their team’s effort to preserve their lead.
The home side could have extended it after absorbing pressure from the Robins but Gregory wasn’t precise enough with his pass to Wallace who had burst into space. Millwall were keeping the pressure on their opponents, Lee Johnson’s side really struggling for any kind of answer to the Lions’ intensity.
Morison was involved in almost everything. First he was shouting at George Saville after the midfielder didn’t give him the ball, before the captain thought his header at the back post from Marshall’s cross had hit a Bristol City hand. From Marshall’s corner Williams had more space than he realised but headed wide.
City then claimed a penalty and though the ball did appear to strike Shaun Hutchinson his arm was down by his side.
That was really as close as the Robins got to a way back in, after another supremely confident performance from Millwall, who moved up to seventh in the table with five games left this season.
Image: Millwall FC