ASTON VILLA 1
BY JAKE SANDERS AT VILLA PARK
A record was broken at Villa Park on Easter Monday, unfortunately for Millwall it was Aston Villa setting a new club record of consecutive victories, which now stands at 10.
If it wasn’t for a wonderful display of goalkeeping from Dave Martin, Neil Harris’ side could have been on the end of a thrashing.
The 33-year-old produced a number of excellent saves to keep an impressive Villa side down to just one goal to show for their efforts.
And no wonder Lions boss Harris looked dejected when he walked into the press conference room. At the time, the Championship table didn’t make for pretty reading.
Rotherham were beating Villa’s neighbours Birmingham City and temporarily moved level on points with the Lions. But three goals in the second half from the Blues means that the South Londoners maintained their three-point gap on the relegation zone and Harris could enjoy his coach trip back to the capital slightly more.
If Millwall match or better Rotherham’s result on Saturday, they will be all-but safe, barring a 15-goal swing in their final two games, which looks increasingly unlikely.
The Lions host Stoke City on Saturday, while the Millers face a daunting trip to West Bromwich Albion, who sealed their place in the top-six with a draw at Reading.
It’s likely that the Baggies will face Midlands rivals Villa in the play-offs and if Dean Smith’s side are in this kind of mood, then they might go one better this year after suffering Wembley final disappointment at the hands of Fulham last May.
In front of a sold-out, expectant and deafening Villa Park crowd, the hosts took a while to get going but eventually broke down a stubborn Millwall defence on the 30-minute mark.
Jack Grealish – who was a thorn in the Lions’ side all afternoon – played a major part in their opening goal, creating space for Anwar El Ghazi to pick out Jonathan Kodjia, who made amends for his earlier miss by sliding home his eighth Championship goal of the season and second in as many games.
Millwall had earlier gone close through Jed Wallace and then Alex Pearce and despite some anxious moments, the Villans went into the interval with their slender lead marginally intact.
They tried to ensure there were less nervy moments in the second-half, but after slicing through Jake Cooper and James Meredith, Kodjia’s right-footed shot ended closer to the corner flag than the back of the Millwall net.
But that opportunity began a siege on the Millwall goal. Grealish was the first to be frustrated by Martin as his side-footed effort was kept out by the goalkeeper’s legs.
Despite the onslaught, the Lions continued to be their usual threat from set-pieces and if the direction of Cooper’s header had been slightly better, they would have been level after Villa goalkeeper Jed Steer found himself grasping at thin air from Alex Pearce’s free-kick.
El Ghazi and Andre Green were next to go close for Villa, but Martin produced more heroics to ensure that Millwall stayed in the contest. The Lions were waiting for one chance. One set-piece. And that opportunity came in the 87th minute. But Lee Gregory – who endured a tough afternoon against the physical Mile Jedinak and Tyrone Mings – wasted it, hooking over from close-range.
It would have been a smash-and-grab from Millwall, but they could not break down a resolute and determined Villa back-line, who recorded their fifth clean sheet in their last 10 matches.
There was still time for Martin to inject further concern into the home fans as he made a quite-brilliant save from El Ghazi three minutes from time.
The Dutchman had latched on to John McGinn’s pass but unfortunately for him, his finish couldn’t match his wonderful touch and Villa were unable to enjoy a stress-free end to the game.
Reading and Wigan ensured their safety bids were complete by picking up the necessary results, leaving Millwall and Rotherham to compete in a straight shoot-out to avoid dropping into the third-tier.
With that all-important game in hand, plus two enticing home games, Millwall are heavy favourites to continue their Championship adventure.
But unless the Lions can beat one of Stoke or Bristol City, a potential fraught afternoon at the DW Stadium awaits then when they travel to Wigan Athletic on the final day of the season.
Millwall (4-5-1): Martin 9, Romeo 6 (Elliott 89), Cooper 6, Pearce 7, Meredith 6 (O’Brien 64, 6), Leonard 6, Tunnicliffe 6, Marshall 6, Tunnicliffe 6 (Morison 79), Leonard 6, Ferguson 6, J Wallace 7, Gregory 6. Not used: Amos, McLaughlin, Williams, Skalak.
Photos by Brian Tonks