Tunnicliffe 30 Hegazi 66 og
WEST BROM 0
BY RICHARD CAWLEY AT THE DEN
Millwall badly, badly needed a big performance at The Den – and provided exactly that on Saturday.
Home form has always been vital to the Lions, not just in that impressive first season in the Championship but also gaining promotion from League One.
So a run of five league matches in SE16 without a win – three of those losses – was proving a serious impediment in their attempts to climb away from the bottom three.
If Millwall had not deservedly secured a first Championship victory at The Den since December 29 then they would have dropped into the bottom three, something that hasn’t happened in the 2018-19 campaign.
Instead they had the psychological boost of hitting the 40-point barrier. Following up with another win against QPR tomorrow could take just a little heat out of Saturday’s trip to second-placed Sheffield United.
Millwall certainly head into the midweek derby in finer fettle than the R’s. While they were getting comprehensively trounced by leaders Norwich City, the South Londoners ended James Shan’s perfect record as Baggies caretaker manager.
The Lions controlled proceedings from the moment that Ryan Tunnicliffe fired the Lions ahead on 31 minutes.
Okay, Albion passed up a glorious chance to bring the contest back level early in the second half. Jay Rodriguez, who has scored 19 Championship goals, failed to hit the target from the penalty spot.
But Millwall’s dominance meant they fully deserved a seventh home league win.
Saturday was the first time that they have led at The Den in a league match in 2019.
And Ben Thompson, such a vibrant presence since his return from Portsmouth, had his fingerprints all over the second goal on 66 minutes. His run and cross was diverted into his own net by Ahmed Hegazi.
When you consider how often Millwall have been sucker-punched by conceding late this season, that extra buffer was a major bonus.
It should have been 3-0 soon after. Sam Johnstone could only parry Thompson’s long-range effort but followed up to get his right knee on Lee Gregory’s shot and deflect it out for a corner.
There was no hint of a comeback by West Brom. And their already forlorn cause was not aided when Hegazi was dismissed for a second bookable offence. The centre-back fouled the excellent Gregory and then made sure of his dismissal by petulantly booting the ball away.
Truth be told, Millwall have been playing well for the last month. The wins over Birmingham and the Baggies were more like the performances seen in the previous campaign.
Sandwiched in between those was an unlucky FA Cup quarter-final exit to Brighton and then a thriller at Leeds, the SE16 outfit fully playing their part in a highly enjoyable clash.
So there has been a consistency about performances of late, even if not all the results have fallen Millwall’s way.
They have also shown signs of firmly bedding in to their new formation, which seems to shift between 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1. Thompson has been a revelation in the number 10 role, combining well with Gregory.
The latter had two chances to score on Saturday – the first early on – but the fact the number nine did not hit the back of the net should not detract from a superb shift up top.
Gregory is not a targetman, but he used his body strength to prevent Hegazi heading away David Martin’s long kick for Millwall’s opener. The striker nudged the ball on for Tunnicliffe, whose strike deceived Johnstone.
It might have been route one, but so much of the Lions’ play wasn’t. There was plenty of intricacy to the way they worked their way up the pitch. Thompson and Jed Wallace provided the major movement behind Gregory – the trio standing out in an impressive team display.
Alex Pearce has added extra solidity to the Lions backline. James Meredith, who has struggled to hit the same levels as last season, had arguably his best outing – making one impeccably timed tackle on Hal Robson-Kanu in the Lions penalty box.
Rodriguez and Dwight Gayle are just shy of a 40-goal haul between them but were left frustrated at the weekend.
Gayle’s one moment of danger came when he got the wrong side of Jake Cooper – the centre-back producing enough contact on the former Crystal Palace man to leave James Linington pointing to the penalty spot.
David Martin, who has quietly and confidently gone about his work since being brought in between the posts, went the right way. Luckily for the Lions, Rodriguez sent his kick whistling wide.
The play-off chasers’ only effort on target came in the first period, Martin tipping over Stefan Johansen’s shot.
It was Millwall who were the creators with 16 efforts in total. If they produce something similar tomorrow night then QPR will have to be very good to deny them.
Millwall (4-2-3-1): Martin 8, Romeo 8, Cooper 8, Pearce 8, Meredith 8, Leonard 8, Tunnicliffe 8, Thompson 9, J Wallace 9 (O’Brien 86), Marshall 8, Gregory 9. Not used: Archer, McLaughlin, Williams, Skalak, Elliott, Morison.