BY JAKE SANDERS AT THE DEN
I’m not sure the phrase ‘the result is all the matters’ has ever been more appropriate.
And it’s quite fitting that the result that put an end to Millwall’s wretched run was a 1-0 victory against a distinctly average Reading side who played with 10 men for more than 80 minutes and then nine in the closing stages.
Lions manager Neil Harris was not worried about the manner of victory as it ended a winless eight-match run.
He said: “We have played really well and got no rewards in that period. We have played really well and got some really bad luck – so I am not going to bemoan my players.”
The Lions boss classed the match as a ‘six-pointer’ and the opening eight minutes lived up to that tag. They were scrappy, cagey and severely lacking in quality. It wasn’t pretty and a sign of things to come.
But, all of a sudden, one swing from the wand of a right foot that Jed Wallace possesses put Millwall in front. It was the first time they had led in a game since the 4-3 defeat at Norwich City on November 10.
It was a moment of genuine class and one that Wallace is more than capable of – although given the calibre of the strike it comes as a surprise that it was just his third goal of the campaign.
His stunning 25-yard free-kick sent The Den into raptures. By the time they had stopped celebrating that moment of magic, they were up on their feet again.
Defender Tyler Blackett lunged in on the Lions goalscorer and referee Andy Davies deemed it to be a dangerous tackle, wasting no time in brandishing the red card.
One goal up and one man up – what could possibly go wrong? But no-one needs reminding of what happened the last time Millwall were in that position against Swansea City in September and went on to lose 2-1.
Ryan Tunnicliffe sliced wide from a wonderful position before Shaun Hutchinson and Lee Gregory were both denied by Anssi Jaakkola in the Royals goal as Millwall searched for that elusive second. It wasn’t helping the anxiety levels of those supporting the Lions.
In truth, they could have played all night and they would not have beaten the Finnish goalkeeper again.
The second-half was far less eventful. Despite their numerical advantage, Millwall hardly put their opponents under any pressure.
And it was surprisingly Reading that came closest to scoring the game’s second goal. John Swift – the man who always looked most likely – fired a spectacular long-range free-kick towards Jordan Archer’s goal and the Royals were only the width of the crossbar away from levelling the scores. It was almost identical to Wallace’s strike, aside from the end result.
For the first time in what seems like an age, Lady Luck was on Millwall’s side. They had got away with one.
That would be as good as it got for Reading. An anxious home crowd were counting down the seconds until full-time. The Lions saw out the final moments without too many difficulties, helped by a needless act of stupidity from Leandro Bacuna. The former Aston Villa man needlessly trod on Shane Ferguson and deservedly became the second visiting player to be given his marching orders.
Ferguson’s reaction spoke a thousand words. Normally such a composed customer, the Millwall winger responded angrily to Bacuna’s moment of madness. Steve Morison acted as peacemaker and order was restored.
That made Millwall’s job of grinding out three much-needed and crucial points even easier.
The victory put an end to their longest winless run since Harris took charge in March 2015 and leaves them looking up – rather than down – ahead of their clash with Nottingham Forest tomorrow and then the visit to the Championship’s bottom club Ipswich Town on New Year’s Day.
Millwall (4-4-2): Archer 6, Romeo 7, Hutchinson 6, Cooper 8, Meredith 5,
J Wallace 8 (O’Brien 76), Tunnicliffe 6, Leonard 6, Ferguson 7 (Skalak 89), Elliott 5 (Morison 57, 6), Gregory 7. Subs: Amos, Brown, M Wallace, McLaughlin.