Meredith 11 og Morrison 76
BY RICHARD CAWLEY AT THE DEN
Millwall suffered their first Den defeat since September 29 as this time they could find no way to fight back from falling behind.
The Lions have now only scored first in one of their last six league fixtures in SE16 yet had still managed to beat Aston Villa and Wigan Athletic as well as picking up a point on Saturday against Bolton Wanderers.
But Birmingham City, who had lost their last three meetings against Millwall without netting, joined Sheffield United and Swansea in triumphing in South London.
Normally you would say that having a player sent off with 60 minutes still to play would be a huge factor in defeat. But the Lions had been really poor before Ryan Leonard’s dismissal – their best period of the contest came in the opening 25 minutes of the second half as they gamely plugged away for an equaliser.
Referee Scott Duncan made some poor calls on the night as he showed a leniency to Birmingham on challenges and also time-wasting which should have seen produced more cautions.
But he got Leonard’s red card bang on. The club’s record signing had already seen yellow for bringing down the dangerous Che Adams as he looked to spring a counter attack.
It left him walking a disciplinary tightrope and the midfielder’s lunge on Maikel Kieftenbeld put Millwall at a numerical disadvantage with a long way to go.
Birmingham already had their noses in front by that stage. Shaun Hutchinson’s slip gave Adams easier passage into the penalty area and although his low shot hit the base of the post it unhelpfully pinged in off James Meredith.
Much like the Bolton game, the Lions were strangely listless in that opening 45 minutes. Birmingham were quicker, more competitive in picking up loose balls and implemented far more effective pressing.
Millwall just don’t look anywhere near as robust or resilient as they did in the 2017-18 season.
They have conceded 12 more goals at this stage. It could just be a confidence thing, because the personnel is pretty much the same with the exception of loanee Ben Amos and summer signing Murray Wallace.
The Lions failed to make a fast start against a Birmingham side whose pride had been pricked by derby defeat to Aston Villa. Uncertain defending and woeful distribution proving a disastrous combination.
Lukas Jutkiewicz should have at least found the target with a chance just before Leonard departed while Jordan Archer had to come out and block Jacques Maghoma as he tried to bulldoze his way through.
The second half was better from Millwall. Their home record demands respect and Birmingham were not prepared to take risks, even if they were up against 10 men. Garry Monk’s instructions were clearly to spring on the break.
You could not fault the Lions’ application. But it only resulted in one save for Blues stopper Lee Camp.
Jed Wallace and Lee Gregory were the best performers in blue shirts – with the former tirelessly trying to make something good happen. It was Wallace’s 49th-minute free-kick which forced Camp into a parry, and he reacted quickly to then hold the follow up attempt from Jake Cooper.
Millwall failed to score in a home Championship game for the first time this season. Only Fulham had shut them out in 16 of their 17 previous league matches there.
The clincher came 14 minutes from time for Birmingham from former Charlton centre-back Michael Morrison.
Archer could only push away Maghoma’s corner – reacting late as he perhaps expected a touch at his near post – and the Blue skipper slammed his shot home via a deflection off Cooper.
When it came to determination to win the ball inside the penalty area, something Millwall were so good at last season, they were second best.
Game over, but not the end of the setbacks for the Lions as Gregory came off with a groin injury. The last thing needed right now with Tom Bradshaw and Tom Elliott unavailable due to injury is the club’s top scorer joining them.
One man definitely missing Sunday’s match at Bristol City is Leonard.
Millwall head to Ashton Gate with just two away points and looking to avoid a fourth straight reverse on the road.
Bolton and Birmingham looked good opportunities to put some daylight between themselves and the bottom three. Now that they haven’t managed to do that, it only ramps up the pressure to achieve more on their travels.
PICTURES BY BRIAN TONKS