MILLWALL won for the first time in nine games but made hard work of it against nine-man Reading at The Den on Boxing Day.
Jed Wallace’s free-kick gave Millwall an eighth-minute lead before Royals centre-back Tyler Blackett was given a straight red card for a foul on the goal scorer.
Reading almost equalised with 18 minutes left when John Swift’s free-kick had Jordan Archer beaten but the ball came back off the crossbar.
Reading were reduced to nine men in the 88th minute when Leandro Bacuna appeared to kick out at Shane Ferguson.
Neil Harris had called this a potentially season-defining period, with the Lions in the relegation zone before facing another side struggling near the bottom of the Championship.
They couldn’t have made a more perfect start, aided by their opponents.
But the Lions didn’t really sustain their early pressure when it looked like they would overwhelm the visitors.
Reading had Millwall fans living on their nerves as they tried to rescue a point. It should have been far more comfortable for Millwall against a side that had won just two away games in 2018.
But the Royals grew in confidence as the game went on and created decent scoring chances.
Millwall will probably say it was about time they won while not playing at their best, after a number of impressive performances this season have gone without reward.
It was just a third clean sheet of the season, and for all that Reading should be given credit for the way they played for so long with 10 men, Archer was never really severely tested.
This should be a weight off the home players’ shoulders, after they climbed out of the relegation zone ahead of their last home game of the year against Nottingham Forest this weekend.
Jose Gomes couldn’t have had a worse start to his reign at the Royals as Wallace fired in a direct free-kick from near the right edge of the area, before Blackett left his side with a mountain to climb.
Ryan Tunnicliffe was then presented with the chance to make it two but his shot from 10 yards was deflected over.
Swift has his side’s first shot on target in the 22nd minute forcing Archer into a save low to his right.
Reading fans called for the same punishment as Blackett when Tom Elliott caught Liam Moore late, but the striker escaped with a booking.
The Royals frustrated the home fans by retaining possession, though without troubling Archer again before half-time.
It was Millwall who chased a second late in the first half but Anssi Jaakkola raced from his line to just reach the ball before Lee Gregory.
Reading had the first effort on target in the second half but Danny Loader’s shot from outside the box was straight at Archer, before Ryan Leonard just missed the top corner with a fierce drive from 25 yards.
Royals midfielder Bacuna then drove forward into space in the box but couldn’t find the target. Millwall fans were nervous that their side was playing too deep despite the man advantage.
In the 67th minute Jake Cooper had to get across in the box as Yakou Meite prepared to shoot, and the centre-back made a good block.
Reading went even closer five minutes later when Swift’s free-kick dipped past Archer but the ball crashed back off the woodwork.
It was getting too close for comfort for the home side, before Reading’s chances of getting anything from the game effectively ended with Bacuna’s sending-off.
Image: Millwall FC