BY JAKE SANDERS
Dave Martin produced a sensational display of goalkeeping but couldn’t prevent Millwall from slipping to their first Championship defeat in five matches.
The Lions shotstopper made a host of second-half saves to keep Aston Villa at bay but could do nothing about Jonathan Kodjia’s 30th-minute winner that earned Villa their 10th consecutive league victory.
Millwall were unbeaten in four after the win against West Brom was followed up by draws against QPR, Sheffield United and Brentford on Good Friday and they remain three points above the relegation zone with three matches remaining.
Villa responded to the electric atmosphere inside a sold-out Villa Park, dominating the early exchanges and should have broken the deadlock, but Anwar El Ghazi somehow failed to hit the target from close range, heading over when he found himself unmarked from a Jack Grealish corner.
The Lions responded with chances of their own and Jed Steer needed to be at his best to keep out Jed Wallace’s rasping left-footed drive from 25-yards. From the resulting corner, Alex Pearce ghosted in at the back post, but couldn’t apply the finish touching.
Millwall almost gifted the hosts a lead just before the half-hour mark. Ryan Leonard played a poor pass to Jake Cooper, but luckily for them Martin was alert, racing off his line to stop Kodjia from slotting home.
But their joy was short-lived as less than a minute later Kodjia did put Villa in front, sliding home El Ghazi’s left-wing cross on 30 minutes for his second goal in as many games.
Less than 10 minutes into the second-half Kodjia should have doubled Aston Villa’s lead. He easily skipped past Cooper before skewing his shot wide when clear through from a tight angle.
But the chances kept coming for Dean Smith’s side. Grealish was next to take aim, but Martin made a fine stop with his legs before Villa’s captain tried his luck again moments later – his shot rolling agonisingly wide of the post after a crucial invention from Pearce.
Millwall had opportunities of their own, though and Jake Cooper should have done better with a header after Jed Steer misjudged a Pearce free-kick before Mahlon Romeo skewed wide when the space opened up for him.
Villa kept piling forward but continued to find Martin in inspired form. This time, the lively El Ghazi cut inside and shifted onto his right foot before firing towards the far corner, but Martin palmed away from danger before denying substitute Andre Green’s powerful volley from point-black range.
Martin saved his best until the very last as he got the faintest of fingertips to El Ghazi’s low effort after he latched onto a fine pass from John McGinn in the final minute or normal time.
That came moments after Lee Gregory spurned Millwall’s best chance of the afternoon, hooking over from close-range after Shane Ferguson’s corner was headed back across goal by Pearce.
Despite some nervy late moments for the hosts, Villa held on to set a new club-record of successive league victories and moved seven points clear of sixth.
EMBEDDED PICTURES BY SEAN GOSLING