Martin Wild reports from the New Den
A second half revival earned Millwall all three points in South London this afternoon after they became the first side to beat Town on their travels since the first weekend in January. Larnell Cole coolly slotted Town in front after just five minutes and that’s the way it stayed until the midway point. But a fantastic goal from Ben Thompson on 57 minutes levelled the scores, before Steve Morison headed the Londoners in front four minutes later. Keeper Mark Halstead was sent off late in the game for hauling down Lee Gregory to become the third Town player red carded in as many matches. And Gregory put the resultant penalty past the figure of Mickey Demetriou who had to don the gloves with no more subs available for Shrewsbury.
There were five changes made to the Town side which had an off day against Champions-elect Wigan Athletic last time out. Micky Mellon went with a 3-4-2-1 system which included Demetriou on the left side of a middle four making his first appearance of the season. The defence – decimated by suspensions and injuries – saw a new look three with a debut for Jack Hendry alongside Dom Smith and Mat Sadler. Cole sat just behind the lone striker Kyle Vassell, with Shaun Whalley and Richie Wellens both relegated to the subs bench. Also named in the squad was James Wesolowski following his appearance in the Shrospshire Senior Cup Final on Tuesday evening.
After a raucous rendition of the home club’s anthem, Shrewsbury - wearing their yellow and black third kit – got proceedings underway on an overcast day in Lewisham, attacking the Cold Blow Lane end of the New Den.
Demetriou was on the end of a right wing move and volleyed over from Jack Grimmer’s cross early on as Town started well, but 60 seconds later Salop were in dreamland when they stunned the Den. A defence splitting pass from Sullay Kaikai put Cole in acres of space and cool as you like, the youngster drew Jordan Archer before comfortably slipping the ball past him with less than five minutes played. It was the perfect start for Town who certainly looked like they were here to upset the promotion chasers having started the game well in the ascendancy.
Millwall’s first attempt at goal came after 20 minutes when Mark Beevers headed down from a Shane Ferguson corner but Halstead pushed it behind and the second corner came to nothing.
Moments later Kaikai’s exquisitely weighted pass almost got Vassell away but a linesman’s flag came to the home side’s rescue. It really was a classy looking performance with Shrewsbury easily the better of the two teams in the first half hour, and looking very assured – aswell as threatening – in possession.
Lions’ skipper Morrison picked up a yellow for a reckless challenge on Ian Black. And it may well have been a consequence of sheer frustration, with Millwall still struggling to make their mark on this game. Away to our left, the delirious away support belted out a rendition of The Great Escape and there were more cheers from that section when Chris Taylor blazed over for the Londoners.
Town weren’t quite as adventurous up top which gave Millwall a bit more of the ball. But that’s not to take anything away from Shrews who still looked a very decent unit, and a million miles removed from a side that finds itself with work to do to stave off the dreaded ‘R’ word.
Three minutes before the break Hendry was rightly carded for a lunge on Taylor but from the free kick, the wall did its job and Shrews sprung forward. Kaikai did well down the left and when the ball was eventually fed out to Grimmer, he pulled his cross-cum-shot wide with players coming in at the far post.
Black had been struggling for a time after the ball had hit him flush in the chops, and in first half stoppage time he was replaced by Wellens. Vassell flashed a 25 yarder wide for Town, before Halstead made a quite breathtaking save to repel Shaun Williams’ close range header in the last action of the half. Just as you expected the net to bulge, the keeper flung himself high to his right to paw the goalbound header away, leaving the disbelieving Williams with his head in his hands.
Half Time: Millwall 0 Town 1
Shrewsbury were out two or three minutes ahead of their hosts who had made a change of their own at the break. Aiden O’Brien was on for the second 45 in place of Joe Martin and was operating in the right channel.
Millwall looked lively in the early throes of the half and on 57 minutes came a goal from nothing. Thompson unleashed a stunning volley from fully 25 yards that fizzed past the despairing dive of Halstead to lift the home fans from their collective slumbers. All of a sudden, the Lions roar was being heard for the first time in the Den and it became the intimidating arena it’s renowned for.
There had been no sign of an equaliser. A little pressure yes, but Thompson’s howitzer had turned the game right around and Millwall soon went in front. Morison climbed high to plant Taylor’s corner into the net to stun Town as the decibel levels reached an even higher crescendo.
Mellon reacted by making an immediate double switch. Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro came on for the tireless figure of Vassell and Sadler was replaced by Andy Mangan with 25 minutes left.
Millwall looked dangerous at set plays and Beevers had an outstanding chance to make it 3-1 from another corner lifting the ball high from close range. Gregory then headed over as the Lions kept their foot hard on the gas, and it needed a bit of calm from Shrewsbury to get going again to try and recover from the shock of conceding twice in quick succession.
Town forced three corners almost back-to-back and at least it brought some respite from the relentless Millwall pressure. Sadly, Cole’s delivery wasn’t of the required standard from each of them and Demetriou then became another entry into Mr. Robinson’s notebook for a wayward tackle.
They say that goals change games and that was certainly true here. Millwall had looked devoid of ideas before the break, yet after it, they looked like the most inventive team this side of the Nou Camp.
Inside the last 10 minutes Managn went a touch too early to receive another great ball from Kaikai and when he lifted the ball wide anyway, the home supporters cheered like a third goal had gone in. Those two goals had turned this place from a gathering generally assembled for a Saturday afternoon garden party, into one attracting clientele usually associated with a high octane thrash metal gig.
To pour oil on the bonfire Wellens had a moment of madness and sold Halstead hopelessly short with an unnecessary halfway line backpass with 90 seconds left. The keeper felled Gregory as the striker rounded him in the box and was almost walking before the inevitable red card came out.
With no subs left, Demetriou went in goal and Gregory found the corner from 12 yards to end the scoring.
It’s a funny old game. Just not today.
Full Time: Millwall 3 Town 1
Shrewsbury Town: Mark Halstead, Jack Hendry, Dom Smith, Mat Sadler (Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro, 65, Mickey Demetriou, Abu Ogogo (c), Jack Grimmer, Kyle Vassell, Ian Black (Richie Wellens, 45), Sullay Kaikai, Larnell Cole
Subs not used: Jayson Leutwiler (GK), Jordan Clark, Andy Mangan, Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro, Shaun Whalley, James Wesolowski
Millwall: Jordan Archer, Joe Martin (Aiden O’Brien, 46), Shaun Williams, Lee Gregory (Ed Upson, 90), Mark Beevers, Byron Webster, Shane Ferguson, Chris Taylor, Steve Morrison (c), Ben Thompson, Mahlon Romeo
Subs not used: David Forde (GK), Fred Onyedinma, Sid Nelson, Jimmy Abdou, Jamie Philpot
Referee: T. Robinson
Assistants: D. Ford & B. Durie
Fourth Official: A. Da Costa