MILLWALL’S relegation worries deepened as Bolton Wanderers scored two second-half goals for a 2-1 win that cut the gap between the sides to four points in the Championship table.
Bolton went in front through Pawel Olkowski’s low shot three minutes into the second half and Gary O’Neil doubled the lead with a breakaway goal in the 60th minute.
Lee Gregory’s clever flick gave Millwall hope with three minutes left, but Bolton hung on.
Both teams had received a boost before the game with Rotherham’s defeat at Sheffield United, but it didn’t infuse their play with any kind of energy. It was about as nil-nil a game as you could get at the break.
But Bolton, with Phil Parkinson serving a touchline ban, were a totally different side when the teams came back out.
Questions will be asked of Millwall’s defending as first Olkowski could cut inside in the box and then 35-year-old O’Neil was given the entire half to run into for the second. Even then when the cover arrived it looked like O’Neil would have to pick out a team-mate, but two feints and he was in to finish.
It was galling then that it was Bolton who looked likely to add a third, and you could see how they played with confidence.
As always it seems against his former side, Mark Beevers was superb, Tom Elliott and Gregory barely in the game until Gregory got his 11th of the season and first in the league since December 15.
It wasn’t enough, and Reading's 97th-minute winner against Wigan completed a miserable afternoon as Millwall dropped to 21st with 10 games left.
Neil Harris made two changes to his side as Alex Pearce made his full league debut in place of Shaun Hutchinson who was on the bench.
Elliott replaced Steve Morison as Harris played 4-4-2.
Archer; Romeo, Pearce, Cooper, Meredith (Marshall, 61); Wallace, Thompson, Williams (Morison, 69), Ferguson; Gregory, Elliott.
It was typically rugged early on and Shaun Williams was booked in just the sixth minute when he caught Callum Connolly late in midfield.
The first half was a dreadful spectacle, with misplaced passes that should have been easily completed, players running down blind alleys and next to no goalmouth action.
Referee Simon Hooper raised the hackles of the home fans by stopping the play with the hosts on the ball. The reason? A couple of balloons had drifted across the pitch. Pearce put an end to one of their journeys with a no-nonsense stamp.
Hooper was spoilsport again when he blew for a foul as Elliott headed over a cross from Shane Ferguson, before Olkowski went forward from right-back but shot wide.
Sammy Ameobi went closer six minutes from half-time as his low effort went just wide of Jordan Archer’s left-hand post.
Bolton went closest with the last action of the first half as Connolly just failed to turn in Gary O’Neil’s corner that reached the back post.
Bolton started the second half energised and were in front after Connolly brilliantly picked out Olkowski, who had a bit to do before he cut inside James Meredith to fire in a low left-footed effort inside the far post.
Will Buckley then dragged a shot wide as Harris and his assistant Dave Livermore conferred in the technical area.
At the other end Joe Williams was placed perfectly on the line to stop Elliott's header with goalkeeper Remi Matthews beaten.
But it was Bolton who went 2-0 up as O’Neil, from Williams' pass, broke into a vacated Millwall half. He ran forward and looked for support, before turning left and then right and firing across Archer and into the same corner Olkowski had found.
Buckley then teed up Williams to shoot over as the 664 Millwall fans in the away end vented their frustration.
Millwall desperately needed something and Ben Thompson almost provided it as he forced Matthews into a save low to his right before Archer kept out Buckley’s poked effort.
Harris had brought on Ben Marshall and Morison, with a central midfield now of Thompson anchoring behind Jed Wallace and Marshall.
Matthews denied Wallace a goal with nine minutes left as he again saved down to his right and the hosts scrambled the ball away.
Gregory’s flicked finish through his legs with the instep of his right foot set up a frantic finish, and Elliott and Thompson had late efforts, but the hosts survived.
Image: Millwall FC