Thompson 28, J. Wallace 75 (p)
STOKE CITY 0
BY JAKE SANDERS AT THE DEN
If you want to get Millwall fans on your side quickly, then becoming the first Lions boss to beat Stoke City since 2003 is not a bad way to start.
And that’s exactly what Gary Rowett did.
In truth, a winning start always looked on the cards from the moment Ben Thompson ended his 17-game wait for a goal just before the half-hour mark.
It’s hard to believe that the Millwall midfielder hasn’t scored since the end of March. His classy early strike was put away with confidence and arrogance, but owed plenty to Jed Wallace for his thunderous cross that arrived perfectly at the feet of the Lions academy product.
That wouldn’t be Wallace’s final involvement, who probably left the Stoke defenders dreading the thought of the return game at the Bet365 Stadium in January. He’d already given the visitors a warning sign with a dipping long-range strike that dropped wide of the far-corner before producing his most telling contribution of the afternoon when the Lions needed him most.
Millwall always looked in control, but considering their treacherous record of giving up leads since the beginning of last season, nerves were to be expected. But with backs against the wall, Wallace embarked on one of those runs that not only relieves pressure, but gets fans off their feet.
This adventurous run, that began from deep inside his own half was full of desire, speed, persistence and determination. It had a shade of Gareth Bale against Inter Milan’s Maicon back in 2010 about it.
Neither Bruno Martins Indi nor Liam Lindsay – who failed miserably in his attempt to cynically hack him down – could get near the Lions man before Wallace, who looked like a man possessed by the time he reached the box, forcing Badou Ndiaye into making a needless foul inside the area and, Millwall were awarded their fourth penalty of the campaign and third since the departure of Neil Harris earlier this month.
The other three spot-kicks had been stuck away with aplomb. And this was no different.
Wallace went down the middle against Hull, top left-hand corner against Leeds and bottom left-hand corner against Brentford.
But it mattered little where he would end up going because the outcome was inevitable.
Wallace now has five Championship goals this season, already matching the amount he managed throughout the whole of last season and putting him just one behind the tally he notched up in 2017-2018.
Four of those have come from the penalty spot as he continued his 100 percent record from 12-yards in a Millwall shirt. His only career miss came more than four years ago during his Portsmouth days, whilst his only other for the South Londoners came in an FA Cup tie against League One side Rochdale back in January of last year.
Despite his immaculate record, Rowett was surprised to see Wallace stepping up to take the penalty. Not because he didn’t think he was capable, but the new Lions manager was shocked that the winger any energy left in the tank.
“He picked the ball up on the edge of the box, it was a great run. He just gets in front of [Badou] Ndiaye, [Liam] Lindsay just tried to stick his leg out to foul him but he has just taken a touch to open the angle and knocked it past him. It was a great little bit of movement and Ndiaye ends up catching up and Badou is quick, but Jed showed his pace as well, the only thing I was surprised about is that he had any energy at all to get up and take it,” Rowett joked.
But it could have been so different had former Millwall striker Lee Gregory not been denied by some wonderful last-ditch defending from Shaun Hutchinson, who wasn’t in the mood for handing out any gifts to his former team-mate. Gregory managed the fewest touches from any outfield player that player 90 minutes (25). Testament to the Lions skipper, but also a major indication as to how poor Nathan Jones’ men were on the day.
More proof was the fact that Bartosz Bialkowski’s only save of the afternoon came in the 87th minute. And even then, Sam Vokes’ tame header barely needed saving.
As an angry Jones said post-match, Stoke were out-battled, outfought and outscored.
He wasn’t wrong.
Millwall (4-4-1-1): Bialkowski 7, Romeo 7, Hutchinson 8, Cooper 7, M Wallace 7, J. Wallace 9, Williams 7, Molumby 8, Ferguson 7 (Mahoney 64, 6), Thompson 8, Bradshaw 7 (Bodvarsson 71, 6).
Not used: Steele, McCarthy, Pearce, O’Brien, Smith.
PICTURES BY BRIAN TONKS