CONNOR Mahoney came off the bench to score his first goal for Millwall and inspire a comeback against Luton as the Lions went sixth in the table before the later Championship kick-offs on New Year’s Day.
Mahoney put Millwall 2-1 up eight minutes after coming on in the 71st minute before crossing for Matt Smiith to seal the points.
Sonny Bradley gave Luton the lead near the end of a dreadful first half when he was left unmarked in the centre of the box to head home a free-kick.
Millwall were much-improved after the break and another substitute, Tom Bradshaw, headed them level in the 69th minute with his ninth goal of the season.
Mahoney put his side in front with a stunning goal before then assisting Smith for the third.
Subs pay off – as Mahoney finally shows what he’s capable of
It was perhaps a bold call from Gary Rowett to take off captain Alex Pearce three minutes before half-time. Pearce hadn’t necessarily done anything wrong, but Millwall were in dire need of some kind of change.
And what an impact the substitutes had.
Bradshaw immediately gave the Lions more movement and vibrancy up front, and that in turn brought the best out of Smith who had someone to play to. Smith headed down Wallace’s cross for Bradshaw’s equaliser before getting his own goal from Mahoney’s brilliant left wing cross.
In between those goals Mahoney stole the show. And it’s been a long time coming.
His quality is obvious, but he hadn’t shown it enough since a superb goal in pre-season against Real Sociedad. He delivered in the 78th minute here, after a tackle from Mahlon Romeo on Matty Pearson that started the move. Jayson Molumby then passed to Wallace who found Mahoney advancing towards the box and he cut inside two Luton players before curving a right-footed shot around James Shea into the left corner.
Three minutes later Mahoney curled the ball in from the left and Smith planted his header past Shea.
The hope is this is a turning point for Mahoney, who had started off well under Neil Harris before falling out of favour. It has been a similar story until now under Rowett, who has said the midfielder needs to do more when the team don’t have the ball.
At half-time this looked like it would be the same old story at home against a struggling side.
But Rowett deserves huge credit for taking decisive action – and Mahoney even more for taking his chance.
Set-piece woes continue for Lions
Millwall conceded again from a dead-ball, Bradley being left completely free to head past Bart Bialkowski. The Lions were so poor in attack they couldn’t afford to give away free gifts in defence.
The substitution was already being readied, but Bradshaw came on for captain Pearce immediately after the concession.
It paid off for the home side.
Jed Wallace was first to really threaten when he won the ball from Ryan Tunnicliffe 40 yards out and moved forward but his 30-yard effort cleared the crossbar.
Shea comfortably saved Smith’s header from Wallace’s free-kick in the 15th minute as both sides struggled to create clear chances.
Bialkowski made his first save in the 21st minute to keep out Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu’s shot, before Smith headed Wallace’s cross from the left wide.
Bialkowski saved Kazenga Lua Lua’s effort but Luton took the lead four minutes before half-time when Bradley headed home Alan Sheehan’s free-kick from the left.
Wallace forced Shea into a save to his right in the 47th minute and the goalkeeper denied Wallace again moments later.
Smith went down in a challenge with Matty Pearson in the 54th minute and the home side wanted a penalty, but instead referee Stephen Martin gave the visitors a free-kick.
The Lions were putting pressure on the visitors from set-pieces and in the 57th minute Smith climbed highest in the box but couldn’t keep his header down from Shane Ferguson’s corner.
Shea tipped over Smith’s header from Wallace’s cross in the 58th minute before Jake Cooper went down in the box from the resulting corner but Martin wasn’t interested in the appeals.
The Lions then missed a glorious chance to equalise when Aiden O’Brien headed on and it looked like the ball hit Cooper on the goal-line.
But the hosts didn’t relent and Bradshaw brought them level when he nodded in after Smith had headed Wallace’s delivery from the right back across goal.
Millwall were on the rampage and it seemed inevitable another goal would come. Mahoney supplied it, and then the cross for Smith, a combination that had been so profitable earlier in the season.
The Lions made two changes: Shane Ferguson replaced Murray Wallace, and Smith started up front in place of Bradshaw.
Millwall: 5-2-3: Bialkowski; Romeo, Hutchinson, Pearce (Bradshaw, 42), Cooper, Ferguson; Molumby, Williams; J Wallace (M Wallace, 85), Smith, O'Brien (Mahoney, 71).
Subs: Steele, M Wallace, Bodvarsson, Skalak, Mitchell.
Image: Millwall FC