Town 2-0 Millwall
Sunday, 12th Sep 2004 16:26
Late goals from Darren Bent and Pablo Couñago gave Town a 2-0 victory over Millwall and took them to the top of the league. The Blues found it hard to break down a Millwall side intent on gaining a draw until the strike pair netted on 84 and 89.
An unchanged Town might have had a penalty as early as the sixth minute when Shefki Kuqi appeared to be fouled when going after an Ian Westlake cross from the left, Matt Lawrence making a tackle but failing to make contact with the ball.
Six minutes later Millwall felt they might have had a penalty when Jody Morris seemed to be fouled by Jim Magilton. As earlier at the other end referee Tony Bates was unmoved, Morris possibly having tried to make too much of it for the official to be convinced it was a foul.
Just after the quarter hour there was a flyweight bout of handbags when Dennis Wise took exception to Ian Westlake's challenge on Marvin Elliott. Referee Bates eventually restored order without showing any cards.
Kevin Horlock went close with a freekick from 25 yards on 21, Lawrence having fouled Kuqi in an aerial tussle. Shortly after, Bent charged down a clearance from Millwall keeper Graham Stack but watched the ball as it went wide of the post.
The Blues were well and truly on top and passing the ball round with the same slickness they showed against Wolves. Tommy Miller came close to his fifth goal of the season when he struck Bent's knockdown on to the roof of the net.
Town continued to dominate with Millwall evidently happy to sit back, make things difficult and play for the draw. Kuqi had a shot blocked, then efforts from Miller and Magilton weren't powerful enough to trouble Stack.
The Blues had been on the end of one or two dodgy challenges which referee Bates had failed to pick up on and the official was found wanting again in the 39th minute when Elliott kicked out at Naylor after the Town defender – and former Millwall loanee – had fairly won the ball just by the dug-outs.
As the half came to an end Horlock hit a right-foot shot wide and Bent headed a Diallo cross just over Stack's crossbar.
Town were applauded off, having put in a fine display against an opposition who had come with defence almost totally in mind, Kelvin Davis enjoying another quiet half.
The second half started scrappily with a lengthy stoppage when debutant Barry Hayles picked up an injury when challenging keeper Kelvin Davis.
Town weren't playing with the fluency they had in the first half but Richard Naylor went close just after the hour mark when flicking on a Westlake shot from a half-cleared corner.
There was danger at the other end in the 63rd minute when Darren Ward just failed to get on the end of an Adrian Serioux header across goal at the far post. Millwall's best chance of the game came three minutes later when sub Stefan Moore struck a powerful shot from the right of the area which Kelvin Davis pushed round the post.
Soon after, Joe Royle decided to make a change up front, Pablo Couñago replacing Shefki Kuqi in the attack. Couñago immediately made a decent touch to Miller on the edge of the box, the midfielder's shot saved by Stack.
However, Town's first goal wasn't too much longer in coming. Bent, who had just had a shot blocked, ran on to a Couñago header into the area, made the most of a slip by Darren Ward and cheekily flicked the ball over Stack and into the net with the outside of his right boot.
With the Blues ahead the game opened up with Millwall now forced to come out and look for a goal of their own. However, it was a second Town goal which was not too far off.
Westlake won the ball in midfield and sent Bent away down the left. The England U21 crossed low, the ball taking a deflection and running to sub Couñago with his back to goal. The Spaniard touched the ball wide of a defender and deftly curled the ball into the corner of the net for his first goal of the season.
Town passed the ball around between themselves in the latter stages with Millwall unable to force Davis into any further action.
A result which was in the end ground out, despite a first half which the Blues dominated. Millwall's less than ambitious approach made things difficult, particularly in the second half but Town kept plugging away and eventually forced errors at the back, Bent and Couñago taking their chances well.
Bent, with four goals in the last 10 days for Town and the England U21s, looks a better player with every game, while sub Couñago looked much keener to get involved than in previous games this season and showed some neat touches, even winning the ball in the air in the build-up to Bent's goal.
Top of the league, the best start since 1988 and only four points dropped in the first seven games. A vast change from this time last season when the Blues found themselves bottom of the table.
Unlike a year ago the goals are coming regularly, while at the back the silly goals from set pieces aren't going in game after game, and today's second league clean sheet of the season is illustrative of Town's improved backline.
A trip to third placed Stoke on Tuesday and then West Ham in fifth next Saturday during what could prove to be a very important week in Town's season.
Town: Davis, Diallo, Wilnis, De Vos, Naylor, Magilton, Miller, Horlock, Westlake, Bent, Kuqi (Couñago 67).
Photo: Action Images
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