A spectacular Jed Wallace volley and a miraculous late penalty save by Bartosz Białkowski left 10-man Rotherham United pointless as Millwall keep pace with the play-offs.
Story of the match
Millwall welcomed relegation-battlers Rotherham United to the Den with the Lions sitting in tenth and eyeing a late charge on the Sky Bet Championship play-offs.
Gary Rowett named an unchanged starting line-up following victory over Middlesbrough prior to the International break and was buoyed by the return of Kenneth Zahore and Maikel Kieftenbeld to the match day squad, with Shane Ferguson and Tyler Burey missing out.
Rotherham United arrived in south London occupying the final position in the relegation zone but dreaming of a great escape with only three points separating themselves and safety.
The Millers also named an unchanged line-up to the side that defeated Bristol City in a surprise 2-0 win last time out. Manager, Paul Warne, also welcomed back Chiedozie Ogbene and Jamie Lindsay to the match day squad with Matt Olosunde unavailable through injury.
In the sunshine of SE16, neither side were able to take control in the early exchanges as the ball was mainly stuck in midfield.
It took until the 12th minute for the first effort on goal as Freddie Ladapo looked the capitalise on a scrappy clearance by Millwall’s Scott Malone. Attempting an audacious volley from 20 yards, Ladapo struck the ball on the turn but saw his effort fall inches wide of Bartosz Białkowski’s right-hand post.
The Millers enjoyed a sustained period of pressure after that as the Millwall defence stood off their opposition and the visitors had a strong shout for a penalty in the 20th minute.
Ladapo looked to latch on to a loose ball in the Millwall box as the Rotherham forward went down under pressure from Jake Cooper and Shaun Hutchinson six yards out. The Referee waved away the appeals and Millwall went on the counter-attack.
The ball made its way up to Mason Bennett and Jed Wallace in the Rotherham half. The two linked up well as they made their way into the visitors box but proceeded to then get in each other’s way as they both had chances blocked in the six yard box as the Millers scrambled in defence to keep the score goalless.
Any momentum either side was hoping to ride after those chances quickly dissipated as Shaun Hutchinson went down injured, causing a significant delay.
Once the game got going again it was Rotherham who looked most likely to opening the scoring.
In the 39th minute, a deep free-kick by Daniel Balaser found the imposing Michael Ihiekwe centre of goal. The Millers’ centre-back rose highest and guided his header towards the bottom corner from eight yards out. Białkowski did brilliantly to get low and tip the ball wide as the ball looked destined to nestle in the net.
In another rate moment of exciting, Millwall went straight up the other and won a corner less than a minute later. Jed Wallace fired the corner into the front post where Bennett was running on to the ball. Attempting a volley on the money, Bennett was unable to guide his effort goal-wards in what would have been a spectacular goal.
Millwall started the second half where they left off in the first.
The Lions applied early pressure on the Rotherham United defence through Scott Malone and Bennett but still the home side could find no way through the resolute back four of the Millers.
It took until the 56th minute for Millwall to finally breach the Millers’ defence as Jed Wallace bared down on goal one-on-one with Rotherham goalkeeper, Viktor Johansson. As Wallace verged on the edge of the box, he was felled from behind by Richard Wood and the Rotherham captain was duly given his marching orders as the visitors went down to 10 men.
Millwall were unable to capitalise from the resulting free-kick as Wallace struck the wall but Danny McNamara unleashed a fierce volley on the rebound that stung the gloves of Johansson as the goalkeeper tipped the ball over for a corner.
Millwall continued to dictate the tempo of the game and were inches away from taking the lead only seven minutes later.
Malone found Bennett with a pin-point cross in the box. Taking a heavy first touch, Bennett narrowed his angle on goal but did well to get his effort away as Angus MacDonald deflected it away for a corner from six yards, preventing a certain goal.
MacDonald could do nothing to prevent the opening goal only moments later.
The resulting corner was deflected out to Jed Wallace on the edge of the box who didn’t think hesitate as he struck a sweet volley into the top-corner passed a helpless Johansson. It was a spectacular way to open the scoring and lit up an otherwise drab affair as Wallace scored his ninth goal of the season.
Millwall nearly extended their lead with ten minutes to go as substitute Conor Mahoney turned the Rotherham defence inside and out on the edge of the box before dragging his effort wide.
With five minutes remaining, the Millers were gifted a way back into the game.
Millwall substitute, Alex Pearce, lost his footing on the edge of his own box as he went to ground and somehow managed to concede a penalty in a bizarre refereeing decision.
Michael Smith gladly stepped up for the Millers and struck his effort low and hard to Białkowski’s right but the Millwall stopper guessed right and stuck out a strong hand to preserve the lead for the Lions.
It proved enough to secure the three points for the Lions as the hosts held on for victory against a desperate Rotherham United, leaving Millwall just seven points off the play-off places with seven games to go.
Takeaways from the match
Papering over the cracks
Having scored just 38 goals in 38 games this season prior to this afternoon, the problems in front of goal for Millwall are nothing new.
Millwall have scored only five goals at home since a dominant 4-1 victory over Sheffield Wednesday in early February and continued their dry spell once more today as chances were few and far between.
Were it not for a moment of magic by Jed Wallace, it would have surely signalled the end of Millwall’s play-off push but it was enough for a vital three points that sunk Rotherham United closer to relegation.
Hope lives eternal
With just seven games remaining and seven points off AFC Bournemouth in the final play-off place, the Lions retain a feint hope of extending their season beyond the regular schedule.
Millwall have already exceeded expectations this season to pose a play-off challenge, with one of the lowest wage bills in the league, but with another clean-sheet in the bag - their third in four games - Millwall fans can continue to dream of a return to the Den with a Premier League fixture.
That said, Millwall will have to earn it. With games against promotion hopefuls Watford, AFC Bournemouth, Brentford and Swansea City to come, Gary Rowett’s side will have improve on today’s performance.
Wallace showed that form is temporary and class is permanent as Millwall’s talisman scored his ninth goal of the season in style today and ultimately proved the difference between two well-matched sides.
With only his third goal in 17 appearances, Wallace has struggled to find his form from the first part of the season, but with goals like today in his arsenal, Wallace has the ability to change any game on its head and proved a match-winner once more, his goals alone contributing a vital 18 points to Millwall’s total this season.
Wallace’s magic moment can of course not take anything away from Białkowski’s heroics at the other end and Gary Rowett can be proud of his side’s efforts today but if Millwall are to make the play-offs, he will need to rely on more than two players to lift his side up the league table.