By Richard Cawley at St Andrews
Millwall are closer to the play-off places than the relegation zone as their fine form since the start of January shows no signs of abating.
Saturday’s 1-0 win at Birmingham City extended their unbeaten run in the Championship to six matches.
What is more, it also took the Lions onto 42 points – one more than they managed in the 2013-14 campaign when they were last at this level – and they still have 14 matches to go. They are 14 points better off than at the same stage of that season when they lost their Championship status.
The threat of being dragged into the drop fight has all but disappeared. It would take a remarkable collapse from a side and group of players whose mental resilience cannot be faulted. It simply isn’t going to happen.
This Millwall side – a triumph for team ethic and strict adherence to tactics – could look at bettering the 56 points in the 2012-13 campaign or 57 in the one before that.
The South Londoners are fifth in the form guide over the past six matches and that is despite their impressive home record dipping ever so slightly in recent weeks with a spate of three draws.
Earlier in the season any Den drop-off would have been a worry because they were not banking enough points on the road. Well, that isn’t the case anymore.
Neil Harris’ side made it nine points from a possible nine away, a feat the club had not achieved since the end of the 2013-14 season.
The defending at St Andrews was immense. Birmingham’s probing was persistent but they found it hard to open up a
Millwall side who have become masters at absorbing pressure.
Craig Gardner’s late free-kick forced Jordan Archer to go full length to acrobatically push away, but the other scares were largely strikes from distance.
Blues boss Steve Cotterill’s assertion that “the better team lost” ignored the fact that the Lions had the best chances.
David Stockdale needed to deny Jed Wallace in the 13th minute and pulled off a reaction stop by his right post to keep out Jake Cooper’s header in the 88th minute which would have made it 2-0.
Millwall defended well for the full 90 minutes and got their rewards. They have kept 12 clean sheets, just three shy of their total in the regulation 2016-17 League One season.
Birmingham did not have the same defensive steel. The visitors gained more of a foothold in the contest as the second half wore on and the introduction of Fred Onyedinma added a different dynamic to their attack.
Shaun Hutchinson’s lofted pass invited the youngster to give chase and although Stockdale kept out his first effort, he managed to convert at the second attempt.
It wasn’t an afternoon when Millwall were at their counter-attacking best – particularly with Jed Wallace and Ben Marshall both struggling to gain telling moments on the ball – but they found a way to win.
There is an unselfish quality to this side which is typified by the sort of graft put in by Lee Gregory.
Some strikers would have their hands on their hips, unhappy that they are not getting scoring opportunities. But he did well with his limited chances to showcase excellent hold-up play and hounded down the Birmingham defence.
Gregory was busy making sure that the marking for a Blues free-kick was correct before he made way for Jason Shackell in the 90th minute. It is that sort of dedication to executing Neil Harris’ instructions which is yielding such impressive results.
Millwall (4-4-2): Archer 7, Romeo 8, Hutchinson 9, Cooper 8, Meredith 8, Wallace 7, Saville 8, Williams 8, Marshall 7 (Onyedinma 66, 8), Gregory 8 (Shackell 90), Morison 8 (Cahill 85). Not used: Martin, McLaughlin, Tunnicliffe, Elliott.