Match Report: Millwall 3, Sheffield United 1
Sheffield United slipped to a disappointing defeat at The Den earlier today as goals from Lee Gregory, Mahlon Romeo and Jake Cooper ended Millwall's barren run.
Although David Brooks appeared to have laid the foundations for a comeback when he cancelled-out Gregory's effort during the closing stages of the first-half, United conceded twice more after the break and lost further ground on the automatic promotion places.
Millwall, previously without a win in six outings, subjected United to the same type of treatment Chris Wilder's team have generally inflicted on others during this feisty encounter at The Den. Bursting out of the blocks, they poured forward and flew into tackles straight from kick-off.
Although the pattern of the game appeared to have changed at the beginning of the second period, another piece of gutsy play effectoively decided its outcome before Cooper's header put the result beyond all doubt. Gregory, who impressed all afternoon, showed excellent determination to wrestle back possession near the centre circle before producing the slide rule pass which Enda Stevens just failed to cut-out and Cooper converted.
It is a measure of Leon Clarke's growing stature that, not only could an improved contract soon be in the offing, but Wilder also handed him the captaincy for the visit to south London. Brooks, however, was responsible for dragging United level after they had fallen behind.
The youngster had actually endured a difficult afternoon in the capital - being cautioned for diving and then spurning an excellent opportunity - before applying the finishing touch to a delightful move involving John Lundstram and Mark Duffy. The latter's lofted ball towards the byline left Millwall's defenders spinning and, from the tightest of angles, Brooks did the rest.
Romeo, though, restored the hosts' advantage and then Cooper, from a set-piece situation, headed home to put Millwall beyond reach.
United, who made two changes to the starting eleven which drew with Birmingham City last weekend, will be disappointed with their showing here and now enter Friday's meeting with Bristol City without a win in three matches.
Brooks, preferred to Billy Sharp, scored an excellent goal but struggled to impose himself on the game while Richard Stearman was a calming presence on only his fourth appearance following a summer move from Fulham.
Whether or not that reshuffle contributed to the visitors' fractious display during the first period, only those involved can answer. But Neil Harris' men were certainly worthy of the lead they held until the 41st minute when Gregory claimed his third of the campaign from close-range.
Millwall provided an early glimpse of how they planned to prise apart United's rearguard when Gregory hunted down a long punt upfield only to be adjudged offside. Stearman was the centre-half placed under pressure by the striker's run and, moments later, James Meredith tested Cameron Carter-Vickers with a similar ball forward. It marked the beginning of a fine spell by Millwall, who saw George Saville and Shane Ferguson cause all manner of problems. However, the best chance of the opening 10 minutes fell to Gregory who, after being left in space following an excellent interchange between Steve Morison and Jed Wallace, inexplicably dithered rather than shoot and was eventually crowded-out. It proved only a temporary reprieve as, just before the quarter-of-an-hour mark, the former United trainee fired past Jamal Blackman after Morison's chipped pass caused confusion.
United, despite spending much of the first-half under the cosh, still enjoyed some decent openings of their own. Lundstram's shot, from the edge of the box, hit Brooks who had earlier been caution for diving. The Wales international then found himself with a clear sight of goal following some excellent work by John Fleck and Chris Basham but opted to try and place his attempt instead of relying on power. A relieved Jordan Archer gathered at the first time of asking.
Blackman, who had been powerless to prevent Gregory from ending his eight match drought, produced an excellent save to stop United falling further behind when Saville tried his luck from near the penalty spot. It proved to be a crucial intervention when, four minutes before the interval, Brooks equalised.
With John Fleck twice trying his luck from distance and Duffy also scooping a powerful shot just above the crossbar, Wilder could have been forgiven for sensing his team were destined to take the lead. Instead it was Millwall who were on target when Romeo pounced in the 67th minute. Then, in two minutes from the end, Cooper guaranteed them all three points.
Millwall: Archer, Meredith, Hutchinson, Ferguson (Craig 85), Romeo, Wallace (O'Brien 90), Tunnicliffe, Saville, Cooper, Gregory (Thompson 76), Morison. Not used: King, Elliott, Twardek, Mbulu.
Sheffield United: Blackman, O'Connell, Stearman (Sharp 74), Carter-Vickers, Stevens, Basham, Lundstram (Donaldson 83), Fleck, Duffy,
Brooks, Clarke. Not used: Moore, Wright, Heneghan, Lafferty, Carruthers.
Referee: Andrew Madley (West Yorkshire).