By ALEX GRACE
Millwall bagged a third win on the bounce and a fourth in five games, thanks to a Mason Bennett strike midway through the second half to keep alive their slender play-off aspirations.
The former Derby forward capitalised on a Jed Wallace delivery to give Gary Rowett’s side hope of nipping into the knock-outs with six games to go.
Murray Wallace’s first league goal since November 2018 gave the Lions the lead but Stoke equalised before the break when Jacob Brown finishing past Bartosz Bialkowski.
Mason Bennett’s sixth goal of the season sealed all three points for Gary Rowett on his return to his former club.
Steven Fletcher had the first attempt of the game, a weak shot that was simple for Bart Bialkowski to gather.
George Evans twice went close, first with a deflected effort that forced a corner and then a powerful effort from around 25 yards which did not trouble Adam Davies in the Stoke goal.
The first meaningful save was made by Bialkowski on the half-hour mark. Jacob Brown’s powerful effort was saved well by the Lions stopper.
Millwall took the lead on 36 minutes. Jed Wallace’s corner was crossed back in by Jake Cooper to Evans, who chested it down to Murray Wallace and he finished smartly past Davies.
The hosts levelled just six minutes later. Scott Malone gave the ball away poorly, Steven Fletcher’s ball bobbled across the area and Brown finished past Bialkowski who will feel he should have done better.
Gary Rowett made a substitution at half time, replacing Ken Zohore with Maikel Kieftenbeld which also resulted in a formation change – the Lions switching to a 5-3-2 with Jed Wallace and Mason Bennett up front.
Millwall went close to re-taking the lead on 67 minutes. Home keeper Adam Davies dropped the ball from a Millwall free-kick and it fell to Wallace whose shot was blocked. A couple of minutes later, a Millwall break ended with a shot from Danny McNamara that was saved by Davies.
The Lions did get themselves back in front, Billy Mitchell’s ball was picked up by Wallace after Danny Batth slipped and Wallace played a simple ball to Bennett who converted to make it 2-1 to the visitors.
The Lions saw out the remaining minutes to record a third straight league win.
But Bournemouth, Reading and Barnsley the teams keeping them out of the top six, all won to take them three points closer to the contests to reach the Premier League.
Jacob Brown’s piledriver had to be saved by Bartosz Bialkowski early on. But the Lions took the lead when Murray Wallace jabbed home in a goalmouth scramble after George Evans chested down a Jake Cooper chipped cross in the 35th minute.
They could only retain the advantage for six minutes – the hosts hit back through a Jacob Brown strike, which Bialkowski could not get down quick enough to stop, four minutes before the break.
But after a defensive mistake, Jed Wallace squared unselfishly when one-on-one with the keeper to set up Mason Bennett, who stroked into the empty net in the 71st minute to restore the lead.
Pictured: Mason Bennett, centre, celebrates with supplier Jed Wallace, right, and Scott Malone PHOTO: BRIAN TONKS
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