BY JAKE SANDERS
Millwall continued their excellent start to the Championship campaign as a late Matt Smith goal earned them a deserved point at The Hawthorns.
Smith, who had only been on the pitch 11 minutes, lashed home from close-range to score his first Lions goal to cancel out Kyle Bartley’s strike right at the start of the second period that looked it had earned West Brom their second consecutive league victory.
Neil Harris made three changes to the side beat Preston North End at The Den last Saturday and handed a full Lions debut to goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkoswki, who replaced the injured Frank Fielding. Elsewhere, Ryan Leonard came in for Aiden O’Brien, whilst Tom Bradshaw made his first Millwall start since the 2-0 defeat at The Hawthorns back in September at the expense of Smith.
In a relatively drab first-half affair, Kenneth Zohore had the best chance, but after Matt Phillips robbed Jake Cooper and squared to the former Cardiff City striker, his effort was cleared off the line by Bialkoswki, whilst Ben Thompson glanced a header wide from Murray Wallace’s left-wing cross.
West Brom almost made the perfect start to the second-half, but Nathan Ferguson’s acrobatic effort from a corner was well-held by Bialkoswki. Mahlon Romeo was caught in the face during that incident and had to be taken off, forcing Harris to shuffle his pack – and with no recognised right-back among the substitutes, Shane Ferguson was required to fill in.
But less than ten minutes later the Baggies did get themselves in front. Phillips whipped over a delightful free-kick from the left and Bartley clicked highest to head past Bialkoswki, despite the Pole’s best efforts to keep it out.
The Lions had a great chance to level with 18 minutes remaining, but just as Smith – who had just being introduced in place of Wallace – was about to pull the trigger, Jed Wallace got in his way and the attack came to nothing.
The former Queens Park Rangers striker went even closer to getting his first Lions goal moments later, but Sam Johnstone pulled off a fantastic save after the striker got his head to Cooper’s free-kick.
But from the resulting corner, Smith finally got his reward. Firstly, Cooper wanted a penalty, but after Wallace recycled and sent over a dangerous cross, Pearce headed back across goal and Smith was in the right place to side-foot into the roof of the net.
Smith, who had been an absolute handful since coming on, almost bagged his doubled of the afternoon, but couldn’t direct his hooked effort on target.
Thompson almost completed an unlikely turnaround with seven minutes remaining, but his well-struck effort from long-range went narrowly wide.
The hosts had the final chance of an entertaining second 45 minutes, but Ferguson’s shot was easy for Bialkoswki and the Lions left with a deserved point to extend their unbeaten run to two matches this term.
IMAGE BY BRIAN TONKS