Millwall enjoyed aerial domination in both boxes against Aston Villa – as any talk of a Den demise is off the mark

MILLWALL 2
Ferguson 26 Elliott 48
ASTON VILLA 1
Abraham 7
BY RICHARD CAWLEY AT THE DEN

After an agonising end to August, and the struggles of September, October is shaping up to be a whole lot of a better month for Millwall.

The Lions should have won at Nottingham Forest last Wednesday. But they took the many positives from that City Ground display into their meeting with Aston Villa at The Den.

A first Championship victory since August 18 was totally deserved and ended an eight-game run without a win in the league.

And since we’re talking about waits coming to an end, Shane Ferguson and Tom Elliott made welcome returns to the scoresheet.

Ferguson’s last league goal for the Lions was in April 2017, a 3-1 home win over Scunthorpe United.

And while Elliott did head home the consolation in last month’s EFL Cup defeat to Fulham, it was the former AFC Wimbledon striker’s first league goal since the 2-0 victory at Bolton in April. You had to go back almost 14 months for his last Championship one at The Den, a 4-3 loss to Ipswich Town.

Both men have not been regular starters in the Championship for Millwall. Ferguson would quite conceivably have been out on loan if there had been serious interest before the end of August.

But instead the Northern Ireland international – due to be a free agent in June – is enjoying a Lions renaissance.

Millwall have boiled things right back to basics in the past couple of matches and that means ensuring they are dominating in both penalty boxes.

Ferguson, just like Shaun Williams, can be relied upon to bang in quality crosses. Jiri Skalak’s lack of form since signing from Brighton has opened the door and he has confidently stepped through it.

When Elliott played last season, it didn’t quite gel as a combination with Lee Gregory or Steve Morison.

But the Elliott-Gregory pairing was a handful for Forest and Villa. It could just be that the big striker, who won plenty of aerial challenges on Saturday, has needed an extended period to bed in.

About the only time that Millwall were second best on a ball into their area was early on – and it saw Villa draw first blood.

Conor Hourihane’s free-kick was met with a quality, inventive flick by the gangling Tammy Abraham.

Rather than the familiar recent story of tossing away leads in the closing stages in SE16, the Lions were cast in the role of needing to fight their way back from an early blow. They did just that.

Villa could not handle or contain Jake Cooper all afternoon and the centre-back got his third assist of the season as Ferguson lashed in a 26th-minute equaliser, the ball skidding off Axel Tuanzebe on its way into Orjan Nyland’s net.

And it was that hunger and desire to win balls in the box which was again apparent for the decisive goal. Ryan Leonard got the touch and once again there was an emphatic finish, Elliott drilling low and decisively home in front of the Cold Blow Lane stand.

Millwall have hit the woodwork plenty of times this season and again it prevented them from adding a third goal on the hour mark. Williams powered onto Ferguson’s near-post corner but the ball crashed down off the underside of Villa’s bar. It was a big let-off for the visitors.

Villa won The Most Ridiculously Expensive Bench In The Championship Award. The combined salaries of Glenn Whelan, Henri Lansbury, Scott Hogan, Yannick Bolasie, Jonathan Kodjia and Albert Adomah would probably exceed the total wagebill of the Lions. That’s before you add in starters like Jack Grealish, Abraham, Alan Hutton and Ahmed Elmohamady.

Villa caretaker manager Kevin MacDonald brought on Bolasie, Kodjia and Adomah in the final 24 minutes but it did not wrest the contest out of Millwall’s control.

Grealish had shown an ability to break through the home side’s defensive lines in the first half but had nowhere near the same amount of joy after the restart, being forced ever deeper to get his touches on the ball.

Millwall’s slow start to the campaign has been hampered by them switching off at the back – particularly in the final stages at The Den – but there were no such slips on Saturday.

Before the weekend Millwall had faced four of the current top five in their last six matches. Easier assignments, at least on paper, await when the actions resumes after the international break. First up is a trip to a Reading side who are struggling for the second campaign in a row, before back-to-back Den matches against Wigan and Ipswich Town.

The Lions’ home record is not quite as impressive this season – with two wins and two draws from their six Championship matches  – but that doesn’t account for them being architects of their own downfall as they dropped points to Middlesbrough, Swansea, Sheffield United and Leeds.

The weekend was a reminder, if one was needed, that they a just tough proposition on their own manor as ever under Harris’ tenure. That hasn’t changed, even if results had not been reflecting it.

Millwall (4-4-2): Amos 7, Romeo 7, M Wallace 8, Cooper 9, Meredith 7, Wallace 8, Leonard 8, Williams 7, Ferguson 8 (O’Brien 89), Gregory 9, Elliott 8 (Morison 74). Not used: Archer, Webster, Skalak, Tunnicliffe, Bradshaw.

South London News