BEN Marshall got an assist and then scored as Millwall defeated Bolton to move into the Championship’s play-off places with four games left this season.
Tom Elliott, starting in place of Steve Morison, headed Millwall in front in the 33rd minute from Marshall’s cross from the left.
Earlier, Lee Gregory’s poor touch in front of goal in the third minute denied him the chance to test Ben Alnwick as Bolton were let off the hook, before Jake Cooper almost put through his own net in the 17th minute but his attempt to block Craig Noone’s shot went just past Jordan Archer’s post.
Six minutes later Adam Le Fondre raced through on goal but Cooper got back just in the nick of time to produce a superb last-ditch block.
Millwall went 2-0 up in the 62nd minute when Marshall arrived late in the box to fire home his third goal since his January loan move from Wolves.
Archer then almost dropped Sammy Ameobi’s speculative 30-yard effort over the line, the goalkeeper gathering at the second attempt and bouncing the ball a couple of times as he recovered his breath.
That was as close as Bolton went to getting a goal back, as Millwall’s extraordinary season continues with entry into the top six and two away games, two home games to go.
Neil Harris had faced Phil Parkinson teams seven times as a manager, winning only one of them, 3-1 in the first leg of the League One play-offs against Bradford in 2016.
There was much talk about the 23-point swing between Millwall and Bristol City since Boxing Day. Here was another one. Bolton finished 13 points ahead of the Lions last season, the margin dramatically reversed in Millwall’s favour, 26 points between them before kick-off.
Unusually for a Parkinson side, Bolton have been porous in defence this season. Only the bottom two sides, Burton and Sunderland, had conceded more than them but if ex-Lion Mark Beevers was expecting to face Morison, against whom he did so well last season when Bolton twice won 2-0, it was instead Elliott in Millwall’s starting XI.
And how this game was different from the three previous dour ones between these sides under these managers.
Elliott made an immediate impression, galloping through midfield before being fouled and then turning before clipping a lovely ball into the path of Jed Wallace, who squared it for Gregory with just Alnwick to beat but the striker’s first touch let him down.
In a frenetic opening 10 minutes, Ameobi crossed from the left and after a scramble in the box, with Noone almost forcing the ball over the line, Archer was given the free-kick.
Bolton’s formation was almost 4-2-4 and it appeared to be the memory of being able to damage Millwall last season rather than their form in this campaign that was firing their ambition.
Ameobi and Noone were causing all kinds of problems for the visitors but it was Le Fondre who had the best chance to put them in front before the break only to delay slightly getting his shot on goal. Cooper hadn’t given up on a cause that looked lost.
It was uncomfortable for Millwall, with Bolton so up for it one wondered why they were scrapping to beat the drop if they can play like this. Something about Millwall seems to bring the fight out of Parkinson.
Not that Millwall didn’t have lots of attacking intent and it was down the right that a prospect of a breakthrough seemed most promising, Wallace was sending a number of crosses into the box but only to Bolton heads or boots. Maybe then Bolton were too casual in allowing Marshall to turn on the left, and he curled a brilliant ball into the box that Elliott made a late run for before he deftly nodded past Alnwick. It was a touch of finesse from the big striker, who was playing with real aggression.
Le Fondre up front for Bolton was a constant pest, attacking both inside channels and Millwall’s defenders needed to be so careful not to foul him when his pace took him into the box. He only just failed to link up with team-mate Darren Pratley before the break.
Millwall had the recent memory of conceding two quick goals when they should have been in control at Ipswich, and they started the second half here as if they knew they might need more of a cushion given how dangerous Bolton had been.
It was cagier, both managers perhaps emphasising at half-time the need to tighten up at the back. And, given what was at stake for both sides, it felt far tenser. Both sides gave the ball away a little cheaply, while Alnwick got under two clearances that had the home fans groaning.
It was in the 57th minute when that low growl of ‘Milll’ started to rise from the away end, Lions fans high up in the stand behind the goal their team was now attacking doing their bit to encourage them forward.
The band in the opposite stand beat their drum louder as Parkinson sent on attackers Zach Clough and Filipe Morais for Noone and Derik, but it was the away hordes in raptures again when Marshall slammed the ball high past Alnwick from Mahlon Romeo’s cross.
Millwall wanted more, raiding forward, particularly down the right through the outstanding Wallace. Then Gregory was away looking up to find Marshall who forced Alnwick into a full-length save.
Gregory was full of energy, darting forward again in the 77th minute before cutting back inside but his shot was too close to the Bolton stopper.
Morison came on for Elliott, who deserved the applause he got from those Lions fans, who saw their side win for the seventh time in eight away games to keep this impossible dream alive.
Image: Millwall FC