HIGH-FLYING BLADES CUT DOWN TO SIZE

Lee Gregory fires Millwall into an early lead. Pic by Keith Gillard

Lions rediscover scoring touch to end winless run 

MILLWALL 3 – SHEFFIELD UNITED 1

BY RICHARD CAWLEY AT THE DEN

I’m not sure we will see a better assist at The Den this season than Lee Gregory’s role in Mahlon Romeo’s goal.

You tell me the last time you saw a centre-forward chase down a centreback, win the ball with a sliding tackle and then thread a defencesplitting pass that is begging to be finished off? I’ll wait.

When big moments in matches are discussed – tipping points that determine the outcome – it was huge.

Romeo did the business to beat the advancing Jamal Blackman and Millwall went on to end a six-game winless spell.

When these two sides met last season in August, the defeat for Sheffield United in SE16 proved a turning point in their campaign as they went on to power up the League One table and finish as champions.

This result was a big one for the Lions. You can bemoan the lack of breaks for them in some of their recent matches but that doesn’t change the fact it had been three points from a possible 18. A seventh game without that winning feeling would have been their longest wait for a victory since the 2014-15 season, when they were last in the Championship. Back then they twice went eight matches failing to secure maximum points and also a ninegame spell.

None of those lengthy sequences were with Neil Harris at the helm. He replaced Ian Holloway in mid-March.

“Neil was in charge when they went down,” said the Bristolian after the 2-2 draw at QPR in September. Factually correct, but the damage had already been irrevocably done by the previous incumbent.

The 2017 Millwall team is a whole lot more robust and resourceful than the 2015 version.

And the six-point gap over 22nd placed Birmingham is a useful buffer as they head towards the Christmas period. The prospect of Shaun Williams returning to first-team contention is a boon, although it has to be said that Ryan Tunnicliffe had one of his best displays in a Lions shirt on Saturday.

In short, Millwall are well-placed to achieve their mission – consolidation.

An inability to hit the back of the net had been a major part of their recent struggles, failing to score in four of their last six outings before the visit of United. But the return of Jed Wallace certainly made a difference as he returned from a three-match suspension with a bang.

In terms of the wingers at the club, the summer signing from Wolves has been the biggest success and produced the most end product.

He claimed an assist with his lofted free-kick which was headed into the net – via the underside of the crossbar – by Jake Cooper to cap off victory.

And the role Wallace played in the opening goal was absolutely pivotal. He supplies directness, pace and no fear as he drives at the opposition.

No one else in the Lions ranks can bring what he does as an attacking outlet. Wallace collected Gregory’s flick to break forward from the halfway line. The decision to cut across a trailing but chasing opponent was a clever move – a foul would have earned a definite yellow card for his pursuer – and Morison then teed up Gregory for the finish.

The pass was slightly behind the Lions number nine but he used his left foot to coerce the ball into the right position before spinning and striking low and hard beyond Jamal Blackman.

As counter-attack goals go, they don’t come much better.

It has to be a little bit of a frustration for Harris that quality like that has not come to the fore more often. Gregory’s hold-up play and ability to win fouls has been a strong point of his game. Tackling?

Not so much. But Jack O’Connell was astutely pickpocketed as the Lions regained the lead – and never looked likely to relinquish that advantage for a second time.

The Blades were able to level things up through a finely-executed strike by David Brooks. Mark Duffy’s dink into the box found the young Welshman, who impudently stroked the ball home from a tight angle.

He was arguably Romeo’s man to pick up but the young defender’s first-ever Championship goal more than made amends.

Brought into the side with Conor McLaughlin serving a one-match ban for five bookings, it will be interesting to see if the Lions boss goes with youthful exuberance or a more experienced calm head at Aston Villa this weekend.

Millwall’s fifth home win this season is as many as they had in the grim 2014-15 slog. They are just five points off the total of 23 they amassed in that relegation, with 13 games still to come at The Den. Progress.

Millwall (4-4-2): Archer 6, Romeo 7, Hutchinson 7, Cooper 8, Meredith 7, Wallace 8 (O’Brien 90), Tunnicliffe 8, Saville 7, Ferguson 7 (Craig 86), Morison 7, Gregory 9 (Thompson 77). Not used: King, Mbulu, Twardek, Elliott.

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