Connor Mahoney put on a masterclass as Millwall scored four goals for the first and last time this season against a Huddersfield Town side already dreaming of the beach.
Story of the match
354 days since the 2019/20 season began, Millwall welcomed their final opponents to the Den for the final game of the Championship season with an eye already on the next season.
After seeing their play-off hopes die out following an entertaining 4-3 defeat away to London rivals Queens Park Rangers on Saturday, Gary Rowett’s Lions were looking to finish in their highest league position since making the play-offs 18 years ago.
However, after a gruelling schedule of six games inside 19 days, Gary Rowett rang the changes, with Connor Mahoney, James Brown and Ben Thompson amongst the seven brought into the starting line-up, with Jed Wallace and Mahlon Romeo earning early holidays having made 43 appearances a-piece this season for the hosts.
Huddersfield Town arrived in South London with the feint shadow of relegation still lingering over them but any fears were significantly allayed after a surprise victory over promotion hopefuls West Bromwich Albion at the weekend.
Three points above the relegation zone but with a healthy fifteen goal difference over their rivals, a relaxed caretaker manager, Danny Schofield through caution to the wind with his selections.
Making seven changes to the starting line-up, Steve Mounié, Andy King and Aaron Rowe were amongst those brought into the side alongside a late addition in Trevoh Chalobah who replaced Chris Schindler after the Terriers’ captain picked up an injury in the warm-up.
Huddersfield Town’s day continued to get worse after that injury as Millwall took an early lead.
In just the fourth minute, Mahoney ran at the Terriers defence but looked to have missed his opportunity by taking one touch too many. However, it enabled the Lions midfielder to compose himself before finishing in the far corner, off the post and passed the despairing dive of Joel Coleman in the Huddersfield goal.
In the 23rd minute, Millwall went close to extending their lead as Matt Smith leapt highest in the middle of the Terriers’ box but was unable to capitalise on an accurate free-kick from Mahoney.
Huddersfield showed the first signs of resistance only a minute later as Mounié headed a deep cross into the path of Alex Pritchard. Only six yards out, the attacking midfielder looked to have scored his first goal of the season but a well positioned Jake Cooper was on hand to block the ball on the line.
In the 36th minute the Terriers were level.
A delightful through-ball from Pritchard split the Millwall defence and Karlan Grant was quickest to fire past an onrushing Białkowski from 14 yards for the Huddersfield striker’s 19th goal of the season.
After the re-start it didn’t take Millwall long to regain the lead.
90 seconds into the second-half, a Mahoney corner was powerfully headed in by Cooper, for the defender’s third goal of the season.
Huddersfield were again slow to find the pace of the game but Grant remained a thorn in the Millwall side. A minute after going behind, Grant danced through the Lions defence and forced a strong save from Białkowski. The ball rebounded out to Pritchard in space on the edge of the box but couldn’t keep his effort down as it sailed over the bar.
In the 63rd minute, Millwall were out of sight with a two-goal cushion.
After a defensive mix-up in the Huddersfield ranks, substitute Jirí Skalák, only on the pitch for three minutes, capitalised on the error to curl a beautiful effort in to the bottom left corner from the edge of the box for his first goal of the season.
In the 74th minute, fellow substitute Jon Dadi Bodvarsson nearly scored Millwall’s fourth from a tight angle after latching on to a long ball from the back and testing Coleman from the right edge of the Huddersfield box.
Two minutes later and Bodvarsson turned provider as a diving header gave Matt Smith an opportunity to have an effort on goal on the turn however Coleman was again equal to it, catching the ball smartly from close-range.
Millwall did have their fourth in the 79th minute as Mahoney picked up his second assist of the game.
This time, the Millwall winger supplied Bodvarsson, unmarked on the edge of the six yard box, to finish on the turn passed a disconsolate Coleman.
It was an emphatic finish by Bodvarsson and a dominant performance by Millwall, with victory seeing the Lions finish just two points off the play-offs in eighth and Huddersfield ending the season two points above the relegation zone in 19th.
Takeaways from the match
Lacking strength in depth:
Millwall’s lack of squad depth was particularly evident this evening as Rowett made seven changes from the side defeated at QPR at the weekend.
Out came Wallace and Romeo, Ryan Leonard, Alex Pearce, Ryan Woods and Mason Bennett. And with it, Rowett was without his playmakers and goal scorers.
The changes left Millwall without 60% of their goals this season and over 80% of assists for the final day of the season.
To give his regulars a rest, Rowett named a fresh-faced bench including academy graduates, Hayden Muller and Junior Tiensia, as well as former AFC Wimbledon academy player, Tyler Burey, all born this century and with their first sights of first team action.
For Millwall to maintain their play-off push, however, Rowett has had to rely heavily on a small number of stalwarts.
Seven players all made over forty appearances this season for the Lions, including the likes of Wallace, Cooper, Tom Bradshaw and Romeo. If Millwall are to sustain a promotion push next season, Rowett will need a busy transfer window to rejuvenate his squad ready for September.
It’s been a familiar story for the Lions since the opening day of the season and whilst the Lions scored four for the first time this season, goals had been hard to come by before today.
Having only scored 53 goals all season before tonight, Millwall boasted a record in the lower echelons of the leagues, bettering only the likes of Luton Town, Charlton Athletic and the visitors today, Huddersfield Town. But without the nine goals from Shaun Hutchinson and Cooper, nor the 20 goals from set-pieces, Millwall’s challenge for promotion would have petered out before Christmas.
However, this evening it was all about Connor Mahoney.
With one well taken goal and two assists, the former England under 20 international was imperious in his performance.
Having managed only three assists all season before tonight, Mahoney was the playmaker, set-piece taker and general dogsbody in midfield tonight for the Lions.
Even without the likes of Jed Wallace, Mason Bennett and Bradshaw, Rowett’s side were devastating against a lacklustre Terriers side and with Mahoney capable of orchestrating performances like this, Millwall fans can enjoy the summer break, safe in the knowledge that their side have the ability to beat any team in the league.