Millwall showing promotion form – but fixture list is unrelenting just as their injuries start piling up

BY RICHARD CAWLEY

Millwall have shown promotion form over the last seven games – but any prospects of mounting a push for the play-offs is going to be impeded by a depleted squad.

A seven-match unbeaten run – 15 points from a possible 21 – appear to have put any relegation fears to bed.

But whether the Lions can be in the Championship top-six equation is up for debate with so many injuries racking up.

Defensive mainstay Jake Cooper looks likely to go under the knife after suffering fresh shoulder damage on Wednesday night. It will be touch and go if he is back before the season is completed.

And Millwall are already without Ryan Leonard, who is one of the strongest contenders to be their Player of the Year.

Unfortunately the list doesn’t stop there in terms of unavailability.

Kenneth Zohore’s loan stay in SE16 has been injury disrupted and now the West Brom loanee has suffered ankle ligament damage at Reading which is likely to rule him out until late March. Connor Mahoney has been unavailable for three months with a quad strain.

The Lions have probably had the most injuries since they got promoted to the second tier.

At least Billy Mitchell – who suffered a serious hamstring tear in pre-season – is finally back in the fold to boost midfield options.

What Millwall don’t need right now is an unrelenting schedule – but that’s exactly what they are unfortunately facing. Tomorrow’s home match against Wycombe is the start of five fixtures in 15 days.

It could be worse – like if the Lions were still in significant danger of being sucked into that bottom three battle.

But they are 13 points clear of 22nd-placed Sheffield Wednesday with the opportunity to make it a third straight Den win on the spin against the division’s bottom club this weekend.

The midweek victory over a Birmingham side who are bang in trouble was not quite as routine as the 2-0 scoreline suggests.

Millwall had the dream start when Mikel San Jose didn’t show the right way to complete a backpass – Jed Wallace just about beating Blues keeper Neil Etheridge to the ball.

It became the quickest home goal of the campaign, with Wallace previously taking just four minutes to open the scoring against Brentford in late September.

A perfect start.

But rather than providing the foundation for a confident display, the Lions went on to labour. There was a distinct lack of fluidity. They looked ragged and also made poor choices when they did sporadically have promising counters.

It helped that Birmingham lacked quality in the final third.

They are the joint-lowest scorers in the league and Bartosz Bialkowski was only called into one key moment, a strong right-handed parrying away of Lukas Jutkiewicz’s second-half strike.

Millwall were denied a stonewall penalty in the 57th minute.

Etheridge could only push a low Scott Malone strike out to his left and Matt Smith’s effort was kept out by a diving Harlee Dean. Initially it appeared that the Blues centre-back had blocked with his face. But slowed down replays showed Dean had used his left hand.

If referee Darren Bond had spotted it – or his assistant on that side – then it would have been a penalty and a red card offence.

And talking of potential dismissals, Jutkiewicz only saw yellow for a terrible challenge from behind on Ben Thompson. The striker seemed to have minimal intent to play the ball.

Luckily those contentious moments didn’t matter as the Lions wrapped up the points with 15 minutes to go.

Shaun Hutchinson stepped out of defence and produced a pinpoint low cross just begging for a finish. Thompson met the ball without breaking stride for his third goal of the campaign – all in the space of a little more than a month.

Thompson was a major threat when he returned from his loan spell at Portsmouth and is showing signs again that he can chip in with a healthy tally. He only netted once in 30 appearances last season.

STAR MAN
Scott Malone. Dominant defensively and only denied another goal by the fingertips of Neil Etheridge.

BEST MOMENT
Shaun Hutchinson’s quality delivery from the right which was finishing off by Ben Thompson.


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