BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Gary Rowett hailed Matt Smith’s attacking aerial prowess as the Millwall substitute headed a late winner in today’s South London derby against Charlton.
The Lions frontman powered home at the back post from Jed Wallace’s corner.
Shaun Hutchinson had put Millwall ahead at the break but Jonathan Leko’s deflected shot levelled the contest early in the second half.
But Smith, a late substitute, climbed over Naby Sarr to make sure all three points went to the hosts.
Charlton have not won against Millwall in 23 years and this was a sixth defeat in the 11 meetings since 1996.
Lions boss Rowett said: “At 1-1 it was a real turning point.
“People have spoke about Bart’s save – it’s unbelievable. But their keeper has also made an unbelievable save. We probably just edged the chances – had the better ones – and Charlton edged possession and control.
“I felt at 1-1 that if Charlton had put their foot on the gas then the momentum would have swung to them. They dropped a little and allowed us to get back into it. Actually, is that allowed us or is it our reaction?
“We’ve got to make attacking changes and that’s the gamble. First we put Thommo back in the 10 position to see if we can get Jed back more into the game, I felt with two strikers it was hard to get up to them. We didn’t keep it for long enough to give Jed good position.
“The last throw of the dice was big Matt and Aiden. We’ve had really good impacts off the bench every game so far. It’s a fantastic header. If you can put quality into the box with Matt, he is the best in the division in those scenarios. As soon as he comes on to the pitch the players are just trying to avoid hitting him from anywhere, and almost lacking respect for him as a player.
“Now we’ve got to work at getting into better positions and putting better balls in the box. It was a little harsh on Charlton in some ways but we took the gamble and it paid off.
“As a manager you want to go and win three or four nil and have a really easy afternoon, but if you can’t do that then there is no more exciting way to win a local derby than the last two or three minutes.
“It was a really difficult game. Charlton are a good side, they’ve shown that this season. We started really, really well – a bit like the Stoke game. We moved the ball with really good tempo – slightly different personnel and slightly different formation. We moved the ball out to the right to Mahlon and Jed, when they start to combine – particularly against a side who leave those spaces out wide – we were able to cause them problems.
“We score from a set-piece – great delivery from Willo and a good header by Hutch. We deserved it. The first 20-25 minutes we were excellent. Then Charlton caused us a few problems.
“It’s always difficult against that formation because you want to press it high – particularly at home in front of our fans in a local derby – but we found that hard. We changed two or three times in the game to try and do it better. At times we did it okay and then at times they did it okay and they are out to their wing-backs, then it’s hard because you’re chasing the game and it’s hard to stop that forward momentum.
“Both teams had good spells in the first half, and not-so-good spells.
“The players have taking on a lot of our ideas but sometimes you can see us revert, drop in and hang on – or try to get out too quickly and not show that composure. It’s just trying to work on those areas.”
PICTURE BY BRIAN TONKS