Millwall take huge step towards safety with victory over Derby
Sky Bet Championship: Derby 0 Millwall 1
Sky Bet Championship
Derby 0 Millwall 1
The story of the game
This was probably the worst 90 minutes of football I have seen this season as a truly dire encounter in terms of entertainment was decided by a counter-attacking goal from Millwall's Jed Wallace.
The goal came after 72 minutes and was the first of only two shots on target.
Lee Gregory and Shane Ferguson combined to send Wallace on his way and, while his shot was close to Derby keeper Kelle Roos, it had too much power for the Rams' reserve stopper.
Derby failed to build much of a response and had to wait until injury-time for their only attempt on target when Fikayo Tomori's header was saved reasonably comfortably by Jordan Archer.
There were no chances in the first half as Derby dominated possession without creating a worthwhile opportunity. In the second period their best moment came from a rare long ball through to Jack Marriott, who stumbled after getting behind the Lions' rearguard.
Millwall, who were 3-1 outsiders, came for a point and hit the jackpot but despite not doing enough to warrant victory, there should be no doubt the relegation-threatened outfit deserved a positive result at Pride Park thanks to a well-organised effort.
Neil Harris went with a 4-2-3-1 formation which often left Gregory isolated in attack but that was no big issue as their mindset was to leave with a clean sheet no matter how ugly the performance.
The Lions did their defensive work expertly.
Jake Cooper and Shaun Hutchinson were robust at centre-back, while central midfielders Shaun Williams and Ryan Leonard did the donkey work in front, making sure there was no space for Rams dangerman Harry Wilson.
Wallace man-marked Derby playmaker Tom Huddlestone and the hosts lacked the nous to move them around the pitch. Millwall took an age on restarts and easily frustrated the crowd as well as the Derby players.
FA Cup quarter-finalists Millwall have lost only two matches since Christmas and their five games in all competitions have featured just three goals.
Four of those saw Millwall keep a clean sheet and their commitment to the defensive cause will surely have delighted club legend Harris.
They have allowed only four shots on target in their last three matches and Cooper is a rock at the heart of the back four, although it is a team effort in which everyone sticks together.
Gregory has one goal in his last 11 matches and it must get quite lonely up front on his own with Harris having moved away from the 4-4-2 which had been his template for success at Millwall, with veteran Steve Morison so often the battering ram in the attack.
There isn't much to admire about them as a passing side and giving up possession only works if you don't need to chase the game. At Pride Park Millwall had one corner, one shot on target, four shots in total and just 34 per cent possession.
Cooper is one of the most dangerous defenders attacking set-pieces in the Football League.
He has six goals in all competitions and is the target for every corner, while Cooper also goes up for nearly all of the free kicks as Millwall go long virtually every time they are awarded the opportunity from a dead-ball situation, even from deep.
View from the camp
Harris said: "It's certainly one of the best away performances of my time in charge. The defensive display is up there with one of the best. The discipline to stick to the game-plan was first class."
"We knew we were coming up against a very talented Derby side who have an excellent home record. So we knew we would have to be disciplined and organised because of the ability they have to open you up.
"The best praise I can give my players is that was a very impressive Millwall performance."
Millwall moved five points clear of relegation trouble with this win and should have enough grit to stay in the division, while also focusing on the FA Cup, in which they host Brighton in the quarter-finals.
That tie should be low on goals and despite the confidence gained from their Rams raid, the Millwall players put plenty into the game and could be vulnerable to a fresher Preston outfit on Saturday.
Derby were odds-against to beat Millwall, which highlights the lack of love for them in the betting markets. They were dire and on this evidence they won't be qualifying for the Championship playoffs.
Frank Lampard's new 3-4-1-2 formation failed to work on any level and their possession was mainly pointless.
They desperately need Mason Mount to return from injury to add spark to a team who looked devoid of ideas.
Experienced wing-back Ashley Cole did okay on his first start for County but they need to improve.
Derby 3-4-1-2: Roos; Bogle, Keogh, Tomori; Holmes, Huddlestone (King 73), Bryson, Cole (Jozefzoon 76); Wilson (Nugent 86); Marriott, Waghorn.
Millwall 4-2-3-1: Archer; Romeo, Hutchinson, Cooper, Wallace; Williams, Leonard; Ferguson, Wallace (Tunnicliffe 89), Marshall; Gregory (Elliott 75).
Next three fixtures
Derby: Nottingham Forest (a), Aston Villa (a), Wigan (h).
Millwall: Preston (h), Hull (a), Norwich (h).
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