MATT Smith scored the only goal at The Den on Saturday afternoon to give a Millwall side that played more than half the game with 10 men a 1-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday.
Smith put Millwall in front in the 37th minute when he headed Connor Mahoney’s corner past Keiren Westwood.
The Lions were reduced to 10 men six minutes later when Gavin Ward showed Jed Wallace a straight red card for a challenge on Kieran Lee.
Millwall produced an outstanding second-half defensive display to hang on for three points and continue their hugely promising start to the season.
Wallace faces three-match ban
It was the second red card of Wallace’s Millwall career and unless there is a successful appeal then the winger will miss games against Fulham, Middlesbrough and Oxford, the latter in the second round of the EFL Cup.
Wallace served a three-match ban after a red card against Burton in November 2017, with Millwall highly critical of the FA after an unsuccessful appeal.
Wallace’s challenge was yards away from the linesman who advised Ward on his decision.
With an already small squad, Millwall are set to be without two first-team players for three games, with Frank Fielding injured on the opening day.
Bannan on to stretch Millwall – Harris sends for Bradshaw
The Lions lined up in a 4-4-1 formation at the start of the second half with Wallace off. They tried to defend in a narrow block and that gave Kadeem Harris and Jacob Murphy more room. The pair combined for the latter to shoot but Bart Bialkoswki saved well.
Barry Bannan is one of the best midfielders in the division at seeing and finding space. Soon after he won the ball back off Smith, Neil Harris substituted the striker with Tom Bradshaw’s more mobile presence preferred.
Millwall’s bench thought Liam Palmer should have been shown a red card for a tackle on Ben Thompson right in front of the technical area, but Ward was satisfied with a booking for the full-back, who soon departed for Massimo Luongo.
Westwood tipped a vicious Aiden O’Brien half-volley over as Millwall continued to be a threat from set-pieces.
Bialkowski and defence outstanding
The Owls had made all their substitutions by the 65th minute when Jordan Rhodes came on. They only had two out-and-out defenders on the pitch.
Millwall were confident they had enough strength in their box to protect their lead. Bialkowski saved low from Bannon before Harris blasted the rebound over. Mahlon Romeo had his hands full with Harris but defended with real diligence while Alex Pearce was superbly marshalling the defence, producing an outstanding tackle in the six-yard box to deny Steven Fletcher.
Wednesday sent cross after cross into the Lions’ box, with Pearce, Jake Cooper and Murray Wallace there time and again, and Bialkowski faultless behind them. Romeo was superb, earning an ovation at one point after being fouled following a burst out of defence.
Wednesday tried everything, but couldn’t break down Millwall through five minutes of added-time. It was one of the most impressive defensive displays in Harris’ time in charge.
Persistence pays off for opener
If at first you don’t succeed try and try again.
That certainly underpinned the Lions’ opener. Mahoney earned two corners in quick succession. It was their fifth corner of the game and having been so solid under two previous Mahoney in-swingers, goalkeeper Westwood mis-judged this one that curled out, coming for the ball but not getting there, and Smith planted his header into the ground and the roof of the net.
It was Smith’s second goal in two league games, the first time a Lions striker has scored in consecutive Championship games since Lee Gregory last December against Hull and Preston.
Millwall could have been behind by then. Adam Reach, one of the best shooters from distance in the division, spotted Bart Bialkowski off his line but his effort from 35 yards just cleared the crossbar.
Bialkoswki also made a smart stop at the near post from Palmer and the goalkeeper's defiance, like his team's, never flagged.
Wingers set to get their chance
Harris made nine changes from the midweek EFL Cup win at West Brom and two from the Championship draw between the sides last Saturday, with O’Brien coming in for Ryan Leonard and Smith for Bradshaw.
The Lions travel to Craven Cottage to play Fulham on Wednesday evening, when the likes of Bradshaw, Skalak and Ferguson have claims to be in the line-up.
Millwall: 4-4-1-1: Bialkowski; Romeo, Pearce, Cooper, M Wallace; J Wallace, Thompson, Williams, Mahoney (Leonard, 74); O'Brien (Ferguson, 83); Smith (Bradshaw, 52).
Subs: Steele, Hutchinson, Bodvarsson, Skalak.
Image: Millwall FC