MILLWALL ended their season on a high after beating Aston Villa 1-0 at a raucous Den on Sunday afternoon to finish eighth in the Championship.
Shaun Williams fired Millwall in front from the spot in the 30th minute after Ryan Tunniclife had been fouled before Jordan Archer made his first meaningful save when he got down low after Josh Onomah had directed Albert Adomah’s cross towards goal.
Millwall were awarded another penalty four minutes from time, but this time substitute Lee Gregory saw his effort saved by Mark Bunn.
That couldn’t diminish an excellent Millwall performance, in one of the best atmospheres here this season.
There might have been disappointment last weekend as their play-off charge was ended by Middlesbrough, but you never would have thought the hosts had nothing to play for given the energy and aggression that subdued Villa.
Shaun Hutchinson was presented with his club player of the year award on the pitch before kick-off and then if proof were needed why he had won it he produced one of those typically brave and timely tackles in the box as Villa threatened an opener in the 19th minute.
Millwall were not playing like a side with little on the line. The home supporters were in excellent form and that would have been as much of a source of pride for Neil Harris as his team’s performance.
The Den sold out for this when Millwall still had a chance to make the play-offs and there didn’t appear to be much of a drop-off since those hopes ended at the Riverside, the home fans making it a real celebratory occasion.
One of the loudest reactions of the afternoon came when John Terry went out to warm up. He was given the full treatment. Soon Tunnicliffe burst forward from midfield and was toppled. Williams and Jed Wallace – neighbours in Biggin Hill – were rivals to take the spot-kick before skipper Steve Morison intervened and ordered Williams to take responsibility in the absence of Gregory. Williams confidently thumped the ball to Bunn’s right.
Villa were one-paced, obviously with one eye on their play-off semi-final next weekend, rarely posing Millwall problems before the break. Ben Marshall was filling in at right-back in the absence of Mahlon Romeo and Conor McLaughlin but it wasn’t until after half-time that Villa tested him defensively, Scott Hogan running at him but he coped well.
Morison and Hutchinson were setting the standards for Millwall at either end of the pitch. Morison rushed to take throw-ins when there was a chance to catch out the visitors and he was generally in that kind of belligerent form that makes him such a difficult opponent. He was constantly instructing his team-mates and showing his annoyance when the ball wasn’t delivered where he wanted it. And seven minutes into the second half he played Fred Onyedinma through but on his left side the forward skied his shot.
Villa were relying on their talented attacking players to dig them out of a hole, and on-loan Tottenham midfielder Onomah almost managed it in spectacular fashion, but his curled effort towards the top corner just cleared Archer’s crossbar.
If anything Millwall fans were getting louder as the game went on and, in the ascendancy, they delighted in telling the away end, “we’ll see you next year".
Millwall were making Villa look nothing like promotion contenders and it was the home side battling for everything. Marshall was tigerish at right-back, playing with stitches in his knee and he finally went down, or was urged to by Harris and assistant Dave Livermore, with 20 minutes left. It allowed everyone a break on a sweltering south Bermondsey afternoon.
Steve Bruce flexed his squad depth in the 75th minute when he made a triple substitution, Jack Grealish, former Lions striker Lewis Grabban and Robert Snodgrass coming on. Marshall was finally spent 11 minutes from time, and he got the kind of reception from Millwall fans that if he is pondering a permanent move to this part of south London wouldn’t have done any harm in persuading him. He has fit so well into Millwall’s system and their ethos.
The Lions probably deserved a second and had the chance in the 86th minute but Gregory put his spot-kick too close to Bunn.
Late on Tunicliffe smashed into a tackle and it was as if Millwall had just scored given the reaction of the home fans. Tunnicliffe shared a smile with Jed Wallace as he jogged back to midfield. That summed up this Millwall side this season.
Image: Millwall FC