MILLWALL were outclassed at Craven Cottage on Wednesday evening and suffered their first defeat of the season as Fulham strengthened their title credentials with a 4-0 win.
Ivan Cavaleiro and Anthony Knockaert’s first-half goals were added to after the break by Aleksandar Mitrovic and Cavaleiro again as Millwall had little answer to a relentlessly attacking Fulham side.
The Cottagers dominated possession and had the first real chance in the 13th minute when Bart Bialkowski was at full stretch to tip Mitrovic’s header from Knockaert’s left-wing cross over the bar.
Scott Parker’s side were ahead two minutes later when Tom Cairney found Cavaleiro in space in the box and he cut back inside on his right foot past Mahlon Romeo and Connor Mahoney before firing high past Bialkowski.
Mitrovic and Jake Cooper were both yellow-carded after a clash in midfield and Knockaert followed the pair into the book after he had words with referee Darren Bond after not getting a free-kick he thought he had deserved.
Knockaert was celebrating in the 32nd minute after darting into the six-yard box from the right wing to head home Cavaleiro’s cross.
It got worse five minutes later when Jiri Skalak limped off with Shane Ferguson coming on for him.
Matt Smith came on at half-time for Shaun Williams and had a chance in the 47th minute when Tom Bradshaw’s shot deflected to him, but Marcus Bettinelli saved low to his left.
Romeo and Bradshaw then saw shots blocked by Joe Bryan and Alfie Mawson as the Lions made a much better start to the second half.
At the other end Steven Sessegnon’s cross looped off Mahoney and onto the crossbar but shortly after that escape Fulham had a penalty when Bialkowski took down Mitrovic, and the striker blasted home from the spot.
Fulham only had to wait six minutes for their fourth, and Cavaleiro had his second from Cairney’s pass.
Fulham’s width and wingers destroy Lions – backed up by midfield masterclass
Millwall would have known all about Cavaleiro’s threat but it’s another thing stopping it. He had scored a similar goal at Huddersfield and perhaps the disappointment here when he cut back inside was that there was still space for him to shoot from 12 yards.
Fulham’s second goal was brilliantly constructed. They worked the ball from side to side in such tight spaces around the Lions’ penalty area. Eventually Cairney, again, spotted the space and Cavaleiro’s left-footed cross was headed in by Knockaert after 26 passes.
It wasn’t just the wingers’ quality, it was Fulham’s overall control and the precision of their play, exemplified by Cairney. By half-time they had completed 442 successful passes to Millwall’s 34. The hosts’ possession was close to 90 per cent. That had dropped to 85 per cent by the final whistle, still the highest in any game in the Championship since Opta began gathering statistics in the 2013-14 season.
Millwall weren’t even getting the little breaks they so desperately needed. When Harry Arter mis-hit a low shot the ball went straight to Mitrovic’s feet. He reacted quickly to go past Bialkowski who dived in late.
With 10 minutes left Bradshaw headed Murray Wallace’s cross into the net, but the striker had strayed offside.
Fulham’s ridiculous strength in depth emphasises gulf in Championship
The Cottagers tumbled out of the Premier League after one season, millions of pound notes frittering around the trapdoor behind them.
They had two players who cost over £20million in their side and experienced internationals on their bench. And one of their substitutes, Bobby Reid, cost Cardiff £10million.
But that’s a theme Millwall are used to now in a division where even Reading, relegation-haunted last season, can make an expensive late surge in the transfer market.
Despite last season’s problems, Millwall weren’t really outclassed to the same extent as this in any game. You probably have to go back to the 6-0 FA Cup quarter-final defeat at Tottenham in March 2017 for the last time that happened.
Cairney was magnificent. His chip over the top for Cavaleiro was matched for quality by the winger’s two touches to take him past Bialkowski and the covering defenders before he rolled in the fourth.
Skalak starts in league for first time since November – but injury strikes
Skalak was in the side in place of Jed Wallace, who was suspended. It was Skalak’s first league start since last November against Brentford and just his fifth for the Lions in the Championship since he joined from Brighton in the summer of 2018.
With Millwall seeing so little of the ball Skalak had had few chances to make an impression. One shot deflected into the arms of Bettinelli. It seemed to be a soft-tissue injury when he limped off and Millwall are set to be without two wingers for the trip to Middlesbrough on Saturday.
Harris changes side and formation
Millwall showed three changes from the 1-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday, with Ryan Leonard, Skalak and Bradshaw replacing Aiden O’Brien, the suspended Wallace and Smith.
Thompson played off Bradshaw and dropped back in against Fulham’s midfield three. But little Millwall tried worked against a side that will do similar damage, you suspect, against plenty of Championship teams here this season.
Maybe the only positive for Millwall from the game was the quality shown by Jayson Molumby after he came on for Thompson for his league debut. He gives the impression he could be in the first team sooner rather than later.
Millwall: 4-4-1-1: Bialkowski; Romeo, Pearce, Cooper, M Wallace; Mahoney, Leonard, Williams, Skalak (Ferguson, 39); Thompson (Molumby, 75); Bradshaw.
Subs: Steele, Hutchinson, O'Brien, Bodvarsson.
Image: Millwall FC