Wallace 11 Cooper 70
BY ROB STEWART AT ASHTON GATE
They say that fortune favours the brave – and Millwall manager Gary Rowett showed that’s very much the case at Ashton Gate.
The Lions chief and his team headed to the West Country to face a high-flying Bristol City side in buoyant mood as they eyed the automatic promotion places.
The Robins went in to the game on the back of a 2-1 win at Fulham and 5-2 hammering of Huddersfield – it was 5-1 after 49 minutes – the last time they sampled home comforts.
So Rowett would have been forgiven for telling his players to sit back, soak up the pressure, do a bit of counter-attacking here and there, but above all play for a draw.
But an ambitious attack-minded formation, underpinned by a three-man defence, which boldly gave Jed Wallace the chance to do what Jed Wallace does these days, showed that Rowett was having none of it.
And how the travelling fans lapped it up – to the extent that they were singing his name as their side headed towards a first win here since a 3-0 success in August 2010, thanks to Wallace and Jake Cooper goals.
But, after a rapturous minute’s applause in memory of City striker Benik Afobe’s tragic two-year-old daughter, things soon looked ominous for the visitors who were very much up against it from the off.
It required a smart piece of defensive play from Alex Pearce to deny City an early opener when Andreas Weimann rounded goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski but the centre-back got his team off the hook by clearing the danger.
Millwall hardly looked back after that early scare as they took command of the contest with a verve and vigour that made City look leaden and ponderous.
In-form Wallace and Mahlon Romeo were their chief tormentors, quickly catching the eye with some impressive pass-and-move exchanges as Millwall attacked with style down the right wing.
But what counted is that Wallace ensured his team made the most of the early dominance by breaking the deadlock in the 11th minute to stun the home crowd, who had not seen City lose here since Leeds’ 3-1 win on the opening day of the season. Then again, they had probably not seen anyone else get at them like the Yorkshire side did until this occasion.
Shaun Williams got the ball rolling when he won possession in the midfield trenches before finding Romeo in an advanced position and he in turn moved the ball on to Wallace, who did the rest.
The former Wolves winger glided clear of his markers before effortlessly planting a well-placed low shot beyond former Brentford goalkeeper Darren Bentley’s dive to put his team in control.
It can often take a kick where it hurts to get sides like City going and the Millwall fans in the Atyeo Stand would have been braced for a fight-back – but Rowett’s midfield and defence held firm.
City hardly got a sniff of goal as Pearce excelled alongside fit-again Shaun Hutchinson and Cooper, winning every ball that mattered, while on-loan Jayson Molumby got his team on the front foot with stylish midfield play alongside the combative Williams.
It is to the immense credit of Rowett’s side that the closest City came to getting back into the contest arrived in the 30th minute as talismanic skipper Josh Brownhill went close from distance.
The second half began as the first ended – with Millwall on top – and it was no surprise when Cooper doubled the lead in the 70th minute.
The big centre-back rose highest in a crowded penalty box to beat Bentley with a glancing header from Wallace’s expertly-delivered free-kick.
There appears to be little that Wallace can do wrong at the moment. He has six goals and six assists to his credit in Millwall’s last 12 games.
Wallace was at it again soon after Cooper’s first goal of the season but this time Bentley thwarted him with a smart save.
City finally raised their game as Millwall sat back in the closing stages and substitute Callum O’Dowda set up a nervy finale by half-volleying past Bialkowski in the 83rd minute.
The game looked as though it could be turned on its head as the Millwall goal came under siege but Pearce repelled almost everything the hosts threw at his defence.
And when they finally did get a sight of goal, loanee Bialkowski came to his side’s rescue – as he has done frequently since joining from Ipswich – denying Pedro Pereira with his feet to extend Millwall’s unbeaten run to six matches.
It leaves Rowett and his players eyeing the play-off zone.
Millwall (3-4-1-2): Bialkowski 7, Hutchinson 7, Pearce 7, Cooper 8, Romeo 7, Molumby 8, Williams 7, M Wallace 7, J Wallace 9 (Mahoney 89), Bodvarsson 6 (Smith 76), Bradshaw 6, (Thompson 76). Not used: Steele, Brown, O’Brien, Skalak.
PICTURES BY BRIAN TONKS
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