MILLWALL moved four points clear of the relegation zone with a tense 0-0 draw against Stoke in the Championship’s early kick off before 22nd-placed Rotherham’s trip to West Brom later on Saturday.
Stoke went closest to taking the lead in the first half but David Martin produced a superb save to deny Benik Afobe and James McClean crashed a shot off the crossbar.
Millwall greatly improved in the second half to put Stoke under pressure, and had a late chance but Lee Gregory shot over the bar from close range.
Millwall once again had to wait for Rotherham's result. The Millers were at West Brom and this stalemate meant they needed to win at The Hawthorns to have a realistic chance of survival.
There were frayed nerves in the first half at The Den. Stoke had those two early chances to go ahead, and Millwall struggled to respond with chances of their own. Gregory was too isolated, Millwall really missing Ben Thompson t link midfield and attack.
But the Lions deserve credit for their second-half performance. They mostly controlled the second 45 minutes and kept Stoke pinned back for long spells.
A tactical switch moved Jed Wallace and Ben Marshall closer to Gregory, and there was much more action in the Potters' penalty area.
Wallace created a chance for himself with a 50-yard run before Jack Butland saved at the near post.
But Millwall's best opportunity came with two minutes left, and as against Rotherham here it fell to Gregory. Like then, the striker couldn't hit the target. The wait for confirmation of safety continued.
Neil Harris made one change from Monday’s 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa. Shaun Williams started for the first time since the FA Cup defeat to Brighton on March 17, replacing James Meredith who was on the bench. Shane Ferguson started at left-back.
Meanwhile, Fred Onyedinma returned to the match-day squad for the first time since March 2.
Millwall: 4-5-1: Martin; Romeo, Pearce, Cooper, Ferguson (Meredith, 90); Wallace, Tunnicliffe, Williams, Leonard, Marshall (Morison, 66); Gregory.
Subs: Amos, Meredith, Onyedinma, Skalak, McLaughlin, Elliott.
Martin produced that brilliant block in the ninth minute to prevent Stoke from going ahead. Afobe looked like he would have a tap-in when he raced in at the back post following Moritz Bauer’s mis-hit shot that went across goal. But Martin bravely saved at the striker’s feet and needed treatment before continuing.
A minute later Martin couldn’t get anywhere near McClean’s shot as it hit the underside of the bar. Joe Allen followed up and his effort was going in, before Williams cleared.
It was a frustrating first half for the Lions, with Stoke dominating possession. Millwall, meanwhile, dallied on the ball and there was frustration in the home stands.
Millwall looked nervous. Alex Pearce, normally so clam and assured, missed what seemed like a routine header and it briefly looked like Afobe would have a run on goal. But Martin had anticipated the potential problem and ran 20 yards outside his box to clear.
The malaise affected Williams, who saw his attempted clearance blocked down to Afobe, who teed up Tom Ince for a poor effort that went well wide.
The home players were surely sensing the edginess at The Den in their most important game of the season. It didn’t help, but it was hard to blame the home support.
Gregory and then Ryan Tunnicliffe had shots blocked in quick succession as the Lions made a better star to the second half.
Wallace then went on a run from his own half, taking on and beating Danny Batth on the left before cutting in but firing straight at Butland. It was the Stoke goalkeeper’s first real save but he looked set to be in for a much busier half.
Millwall had switched to a 4-3-2-1 formation by now, obviously wanting more support for a previously isolated Gregory, and more involvement from Wallace and Marshall, who were playing more centrally in advanced roles.
Harris brought on Steve Morison for Marshall with 24 minutes left as Millwall chased the goal and win that would all but keep them up.
Harris’ side were getting more balls into Stoke’s box, but were still not creating a real clear-cut chance.
Mahlon Romeo half-volleyed off-target from distance, before Ferguson drove wide of the near post on the opposite side.
There was panic in the Millwall box in the 87th minute when Afobe pulled down Bauer’s cross before substitute Sam Vokes went down softly. The Lions countered quickly and McClean blocked Tunnicliffe’s effort before the Millwall midfielder crossed for Gregory who fired over from yards out.
Image: Millwall FC