Millwall 2 Stoke City 0
Millwall offered up an ideal starter to Gary Rowett’s debut as manager, with a comfortable victory over struggling Stoke City.
A first half effort from Ben Thompson, allied to Jed Wallaces’ second half penalty, earned all three points for the Lions in their keen efforts to make some headway further up the Championship table.
This was a performance of discipline and togetherness from Millwall, sprightly on the break and resolute when called upon to deal with only the occasional counter from the Potters.
Rowett – who likened football management as something akin to ‘substance abuse’, during the week of his unveiling in south London - was certainly on message, both on the sidelines throughout and in the match programme.
“Millwall is notoriously one of the most difficult places for opposition clubs to come and get a positive result. And so we’re looking forward to the atmosphere and the unrivalled passion of you, the supporters," he declared.
And, amid a feisty start in what was also the Lions’ annual Remembrance fixture, the former Stoke boss was on the receiving end of some barbs from the visiting Potters’ fans. Rowett’s difficult spell ended at Stoke in January so there was a clear, underlying feeling of the 45-year-old re-embracing the pressures all over again.
At least there was a warm welcome for Stoke front man Lee Gregory from the home fans, appreciative of five years and 77 goals’ worth of sterling service at The Den. Gregory was, though, to remain a minor character for the day.
The hosts, eager to impress their new manager, were full for fire and fervour from the outset. In the 15th minute, Jed Wallace bent a right foot shot inches wide from just outside the penalty area during a sustained period of pressure. This was immediately followed by an almost identical attempt from Murray Wallace with Nathan Jones’ side looking vulnerable to pacy attacks.
Stoke’s inability to deal with the threats on both flanks culminated in Millwall deservedly breaking the deadlock in 27 minutes. Thompson, lurking around the penalty spot, flicked home impressively from twelve yards, following a great run and cross from the right by Jed Wallace. The Lions were in full command - with a track-suited, enthusiastic Rowett animated and cajoling his men.
While the vastly experienced Joe Allen was attempting to dictate moves on Stoke’s behalf, he along with Sam Clucas were constantly compressed by hard-working Millwall. Jed Wallace, always a threat, zipped an angled effort to test Potters’ keeper Adam Federici after leaving Danny Batth exposed for pace. A sequence, aptly crystallising much of the afternoon. Indeed, on those rare occasions, such as a brief flicker at the beginning of the second half from the visitors, Millwall defended with a calm intelligence, Shaun Hutchinson and Mahlon Romeo notable in particular.
Nevertheless, with only the single goal deficit, Stoke retained belief in themselves, albeit slight, for a side currently struggling at the wrong end of the Championship table. The introduction of James McClean gave the Potters a purpose. Meanwhile, sensing tiredness in the ranks, Rowett sent on Connor Mahoney for Shane Ferguson.
The rain continuing to sweep down from Cold Blow Lane, Lions’ Jake Cooper was an aerial powerhouse, repelling Stoke’s sporadic direct and cumbersome approach and, in the latter stages, chances were increasingly scarce for both sides.
That was, until, Millwall’s best player, Jed Wallace, intervened to make matters safe in 73 minutes. The midfielder was unceremoniously chopped down by Badou Ndiaye with Stoke’s defence exposed - and Wallace himself stepped up to crash the ball confidently past Federici from the resulting spot kick. In this flash alone, Stoke were finally extinguished. The final salute of “Gregory, what’s the score?” from a very satisfied home support only added extra colour to the Stoke woes.
With a visit next weekend to Reading – another struggling outfit – the buoyancy from both this display and the arrival of Rowett to hopefully super charge the team’s mentality is sure to give the Lions sufficient bounce looking towards the medium term.
MILLWALL: Bialkowski, M Wallace, Hutchinson, Cooper, Williams, J Wallace, Thompson, Bradshaw (Bodvarsson 71), Ferguson (Mahoney 65), Romeo, Molumby
Subs not used: Steele, McCarthy, Smith, Pearce, O’Brien