By Alex Grace at The Den for NewsAtDen
MILLWALL picked up their first win in five Championship games to start December with three points as they dispatched Birmingham City 3-1 at The Den on Saturday afternoon.
Goals from Murray Wallace and Tom Bradshaw had the hosts in charge at the break.
Troy Deeney pulled one back for the visitors but George Evans’ curler ensured a comfortable victory for Gary Rowett’s side.
Millwall started brightly considering their record in the first half of games this season. They got forward early, giving the backline of Birmingham a lot to think about. The link-up play of Benik Afobe and Bradshaw looked promising.
There was a poignant moment in the sixth minute. The ball was put out of play as both sets of players joined the supporters in a touching minute’s applause in memory of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes.
The Lions took the lead in the 11th minute. A short corner was played to Evans whose shot was blocked but the rebound fell to Wallace and he made no mistake – a fourth goal of the season in all competitions for the Scottish defender.
Birmingham offered little in response, Scott Hogan having their best chance after cutting inside onto his stronger side but he fired a tame effort straight at Bartosz Bialkowski.
The Lions doubled their lead before the break, again from a corner. Scott Malone’s cross was met by Bradshaw with a powerful close-range header which left Neil Etheridge with no chance.
It could have been 3-0 in the 54th minute. Jed Wallace’s looping ball over the top of the Blues’ defence was fiercely struck by Bradshaw but Etheridge was equal to it.
Two minutes later, that save was all the more important as Blues captain Deeney brought the visitors back into the game. He combined well with Hogan and unleashed an unstoppable strike into the net.
Afobe forced another save from Etheridge as Millwall tried to restore their two-goal advantage and briefly they thought they had when the ball ended up in the City net but the linneman’s flag was raised.
The third goal did eventually arrive, though. Danny McNamara’s cut-back found Evans who curled a beautiful effort into the top corner – once again Etheridge left with no chance.
Etheridge had to be alert to prevent a fourth Millwall goal, making two fine stops in succession, first to deny Wallace and then Malone.
Lions find their shooting boots but still lacking clean sheets
Millwall have lacked goals this season with just 20 in 20 games before today. That has been even more telling as the clean sheets have not been there to compensate for the lack of goals.
However, that changed today. Three goals scored and it could well have been more had it not been for Etheridge.
The loss of Daniel Ballard is huge as he has been excellent this season. The frailties at the back have not gone away and that will be of concern to Lions boss Rowett, though the finish from Deeney was of Premier League quality.
Jake Cooper returns in a back three
Rowett had been starting with four at the back in recent home games and at Hull last week but reverted back to three-centre halves today, that partly down to the loss of Ballard who had surgery on a knee injury earlier this week.
That also opened the door for Cooper’s return. The defender missed the 1-1 draw with Bournemouth through suspension and was on the bench for the defeat at Hull.
It has not been the greatest first half of the campaign for the former Reading man. Inconsistency and injuries have played a role in that but he was largely untroubled throughout this contest.
The back three returned as the Lions lined up in a 3-4-3 formation with Jed Wallace joining Afobe and Bradshaw up front. The link of play of the latter two at Hull was good as it was here, hinting that this could be a regular partnership.
Two in two for Bradshaw
It was a year ago, December 2020, the last time Bradshaw had scored in back-to-back Championship games.
He has hit form recently. This was his third goal in six games.
A positive for Millwall after a week in which they lost Ballard and Ryan Leonard to long-term injuries.
Rowett made three changes to the side that lost 2-1 at Hull City last weekend. Cooper came in for Ballard, Evans replaced George Saville and Malone started in place of Sheyi Ojo.
Millwall: Bialkowski; Hutchinson, M Wallace, Cooper; McNamara, Mitchell, Evans, Malone (Pearce 86’); J Wallace (Kieftenbeld 83’), Bradshaw (Bennett 89’), Afobe
Subs not used: Long, Ojo, Saville, Smith.
Image: Millwall FC