Thompson 13, 32
BY JAKE SANDERS
AT ST ANDREW’S TRILLION TROPHY STADIUM
Millwall may have not extended their lead over the Championship relegation zone, but this impressive victory is one that manager Neil Harris might look back on in May as a turning point.
And it’s extraordinary what a difference four days makes.
The Lions looked depleted and drained of confidence walking off that pitch at Bolton on Saturday – but turned up in Birmingham like a side with things to prove.
And although this was only three points, it felt like a giant step in the right direction for the South London outfit.
Make no mistake, after four consecutive defeats, the heat was on Millwall. But like so often in the past four years under Harris, when they have truly needed a result then they have not been found wanting.
In terms of the drop picture, the Lions improved their league position, but Rotherham United’s late winner at Queens Park Rangers – in the fifth minute of stoppage time – mean they still remain one point above danger.
And although Millwall could find themselves inside the bottom three for the first time since Boxing Day by the time they kick-off against Brighton & Hove Albion in the FA Cup quarter-finals on Sunday, they can only control their own destiny and that’s something Harris wasn’t going to let himself get too down about.
“All we can do is take care of ourselves and hope for a bit of help along the way,” he said. “If you don’t win your own games, you are not going to achieve anything anyway. I can only control what I can control.”
Millwall did win this game, but unfortunately for them, the man that stole the show on a cold and unpleasant evening in the Midlands, won’t be given the opportunity to repeat this performance as he is ineligible to play against the Seagulls, having already featured for Portsmouth earlier in the competition.
It makes you wonder where the South Londoners could be sitting in the Championship table had Ben Thompson been a Lions player for the entire campaign, rather than just the final four months.
The 23-year-old has been playing at the top of his game for a while now, but this performance will go down as one of his best in a Millwall shirt.
Thompson showed all of his capabilities with less than a quarter of an hour gone as he started and finished a slick counter-attacking move to put Millwall in front in a game for the first time since February.
It was more evidence of Millwall’s ability to get from back to front at such speed, similar to Jed Wallace’s winning goal at Derby last month. It was simply devastating and there was nothing any Birmingham player could do to prevent it.
Dave Martin, making his first start of the campaign and only a second ever in the league in Lions colours, was quickly called into action, but the experienced shotstopper was never going to allow Che Adams to add to his 21 Championship goals this term, especially at his near-post.
Remarkably that turned out to be Birmingham’s only attempt on target, ensuring a relatively straightforward evening for the former Milton Keynes man.
Marshall could have helped himself to his first goal since coming back to Millwall, but his lob over Lee Camp lacked conviction.
Fortunately for the on-loan Norwich City winger, his side weren’t made to regret that miss as Thompson helped himself to his first brace of his professional career just past the half-hour mark to put Millwall 2-0 in front in a game for the first time since October.
Gregory was once more involved, showing the kind of quality that continues to make him one of Millwall’s most important assets.
He produced the most perfectly-weighted, deft flick into the path of Thompson, who was allowed to advance into the Birmingham penalty area before confidently driving under Camp in the Blues goal.
It was his third goal in five matches, making him their top goalscorer since his recall from Pompey in early January.
From then on in, it was about being disciplined for Millwall. With the experienced Alex Pearce in their ranks – captaining the team for the very first time – they never looked like heading back to London without their eighth clean sheet of the campaign.
Lukas Jutkiewicz headed wide and then onto the post in stoppage-time but the out-of-sorts Blues were mainly restricted to long-range shots.
Given the circumstances, this was one of Millwall’s most impressive victories of the campaign – and one they’ll be looking to build off when they return to Championship action at rivals Leeds United.
Millwall (4-5-1): Martin 7, Romeo 8, Cooper 8, Pearce 9, Ferguson 8, Leonard 7, Tunnicliffe 8, Wallace 7 (Hutchinson 90,), Thompson 9, Marshall 7 (Meredith 84), Gregory 8 (Morison 66, 7). Not used: Archer, Williams, O’Brien, Elliott.