By Jake Sanders
JAKE Cooper headed home a second-half winner as Millwall returned to winning ways in pre-season with a 2-1 victory at League One neighbours Gillingham.
Cooper's goal came just 60 seconds after a Gills trialist scored from the penalty spot to cancel out Jiri Skalak's first-half stunner.
Neil Harris named a strong starting XI, which included summer signings Frank Fielding, Connor Mahoney and Matt Smith, whilst Shaun Hutchinson, Murray Wallace, Ben Thompson, Jed Wallace and Tom Bradshaw were all left out of the travelling party, but are expected to be given minutes when the Lions travel to Southend United in their next pre-season outing on Wednesday.
Alex Pearce started for the first time since being named club captain earlier this week.
Despite hosting Charlton Athletic just 24 hours earlier, Gillingham looked the sharper in the opening minutes and after a good piece of interchanging football, Callum Reilly tested Fielding from just outside the box, but the Lions goalkeeper parried before bravely diving onto the ball at the second attempt.
Moments later, the trialist was just unable to connect with Lee Hodson's delicious right-wing cross before Mahlon Romeo cleared the danger.
Millwall's first attempt of the afternoon was an audacious Shaun Williams strike from his own half just before the 10-minute mark, but he skewed his effort comfortably wide.
Less than 10 minutes later, and after an improved spell, the visitors took the lead. Ryan Leonard played a long pass over the top for Skalak and the Czech Republic international took his time before unleashing a stunning volley into the top corner which left Joe Walsh with no chance.
The League One side almost hit back immediately and Jack Tucker's looping header needed a sharp diving stop from Fielding before Mahoney was denied by some excellent goalkeeping at the other end, as his long-range attempt was pushed away to safety by Walsh.
Millwall should have extended their lead twice in a couple of minutes either side of the 30-minute mark. Firstly, Smith's header was well saved by Walsh after a fine Shane Ferguson delivery before the former Queens Park Rangers striker powered another header towards goal from close-range, but was denied again by an incredible stop from Walsh. The Gillingham goalkeeper then prevented Aiden O'Brien from tapping home the rebound and Hodson blocked from Williams at the third attempt, with the hosts just about surviving.
Gillingham could have levelled on 33 minutes, but Connor Ogilvie was couldn't to direct his header on target despite being unmarked from six-yards out after a teasing cross from Mark Byrne.
And Steve Evans' side went even closer just before the break as Reilly twisted and turned before creating space for himself and then striking the outside of the post, although Fielding looked to have it covered anyway and Millwall went into the break in front.
Jon Dadi Bodvarsson was introduced at half-time, but less than 10 minutes into the second period Gillingham got themselves level. Their trialist got himself goal-side of Mahlon Romeo and the Millwall right-back pushed him over, conceding a penalty that the trialist stepped up and scored himself, sending Fielding the wrong way.
But the sides weren't level for long as the Lions went straight down the other end to re-take the lead. O'Brien cut inside and curled towards the far corner, but Walsh pulled off a superb save from point-blank range at the expense of a corner. And from Mahoney's resulting set-piece, Cooper climbed highest to head into the ground and into the back of the net.
In an open beginning to the second-half, Gillingham were next to go close and after being picked out by Elliott List, Byrne found himself one-on-one with Fielding, but the summer signing from Bristol City showed his qualities by pulling off a wonderful stop.
Lions youngsters Danny McNamara, Billy Mitchell and Tyler Burey were all introduced after the interval, and although Cooper saw his late claims for a penalty turned away, the closing stages were relatively uneventful and Millwall held on to earn a deserved 2-1 victory.
Image: Millwall FC