Gillingham 1 Millwall 2 – Cooper heads home second-half winner for Lions in pre-season victory

BY JAKE SANDERS

A goal in each half from Jiri Skalak and Jake Cooper was enough to see Neil Harris’ side return to winning ways in pre-season with a 2-1 victory at Gillingham.

Skalak’s early stunner put the Lions in front before a trialist was fouled in the box and then scored the resulting penalty. But less than a minute later Cooper headed home to earn Millwall their third win in four games.

Playing their second game in the space of 24-hours after beating Millwall’s South London rivals Charlton Athletic at Priestfield Stadium yesterday, Gillingham started the brighter and Callum Reilly forced Frank Fielding into an early stop – he gathered well at the second attempt after spilling the first.

The Gills continued to look dangerous, but their trialist couldn’t connect with a pin-point Lee Hodson cross from the right before Shaun Williams tried to beat Joe Walsh from inside his own half, but dragged his effort well wide of the post.

But against the run of the play, and with their first meaningful attack of the game, Millwall broke the deadlock on 17 minutes. Ryan Leonard found Skalak with a perfect long pass and the Lions winger took his time before picking out the top corner with a stunning volley from just inside the Gillingham area.

Gillingham looked for an immediate response from a Darren Oldaker corner, but Fielding was alive and alert to Jack Tucker’s looking header at the back post, making a sharp diving save, clawing the ball away from danger to ensure Millwall stayed ahead.

Connor Mahoney sprung into life on 24 minutes, driving at the Gills defence before unleashing a long-range strike from outside the box, forcing Walsh into a fine stop.

Then came an incredible goal-mouth scramble where Millwall somehow failed to extend their lead from. Firstly, Matt Smith’s close-range header was wonderfully blocked on the line by Walsh before Aiden O’Brien’s effort was also saved by Walsh and then Williams’ follow-up was cleared away from danger by Hodgson.

Gillingham had two excellent chances to get themselves level before half-time, but neither Connor Ogilvie, who failed to hit the target from six-yards or Reilly, who struck the outside of the post were able to find the equaliser.

But the hosts finally got their reward eight minutes into the second-half as Mahlon Romeo was adjudged to have fouled Gillingham’s trialist in the box and he picked himself up before confidently sending Fielding the wrong way to make it 1-1.

However, the Gills were not level for long as almost immediately, O’Brien cut inside onto his left foot and forced a wonderful one-handed save from Walsh. And from the resulting corner, Cooper, like so often before, climbed highest from Mahoney’s delivery to head home from close-range, leaving Walsh with no chance.

10 minutes later the hosts went close to a second equaliser, but after he was picked out by Elliott List, Mark Byrne found himself one-on-one with Fielding, but after making himself big, the Millwall goalkeeper made a wonderful stop at the expense of a corner.

Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, Danny McNamara, Billy Mitchell, Tyler Burey were all introduced in the second-half, but none were able to influence the game and although the Gills applied some late pressure, Fielding’s goal never came under threat and the Lions held on for the victory.

PICTURES BY BRIAN TONKS

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