Millwall produced a powerful performance to overwhelm a disappointing Birmingham City and move within three points of the Championship play-off places.
The Lions were full of energy in the first half and deservedly led through set-piece goals from Murray Wallace and Tom Bradshaw.
Blues improved slightly after the break with Troy Deeney’s lovely finish giving them hope.
But George Evans swept in a fine curling strike to make the points safe as the Lions, after a defeat and three draws, got their first win in over a month.
It gave boss Gary Rowett a sweet victory over his old club, whose upturn in form over the past couple of weeks came to an abrupt halt.
It was an emotional afternoon at The Den. Before kick-off the Birmingham squad unfurled a banner in memory of young Blues supporter Arthur Labinjo-Hughes following the six-year-old’s murder by his stepmum in a case which has shocked the nation.
Play was then stopped in the sixth minute as both sets of players joined in with the crowd in a minute’s applause.
Millwall were slick throughout the first half and their good early work was rewarded when Wallace stroked home from six yards after Blues failed to deal with a well-worked Scott Malone corner.
With Bradshaw a bundle of energy, the Lions stretched the Blues defence constantly. Neil Etheridge, making his first Championship start of the season after an injury to first-choice goalkeeper Matija Sarkic, athletically pawed away Jake Cooper’s header from 10 yards as it arrowed towards the top corner before Benik Afobe planted another header wide.
But Millwall’s pressure told when Bradshaw caught the Blues defence ball-watching and thundered a header past Etheridge from six yards from another Malone corner.
In response, Lee Bowyer’s Blues, who were trying to win back-to-back games for the first time since October, were limited to a speculative drive from top scorer Scott Hogan and a Marc Roberts header that flew over the bar from a Jordan Graham cross.
In an attempt to inject some much-needed vim into his side’s cutting edge, Bowyer brought on striker Lukas Jutkiewicz to supplement Hogan and Deeney up front.
That seemed to work with Hogan and Deeney combining beautifully to bring the visitors back into it. Hogan returned Deeney’s cute flick back into the path of the Blues skipper who finished superbly high into the net past Bartosz Bialkowski from just inside the box.
But any hope of a comeback was ended on 73 minutes when Millwall scored a third goal for the first time this season as Evans finished off Danny McNamara’s astute cut-back to the edge of the area for only his second goal in four years.
And but for a terrific double save by Etheridge from Jed Wallace and Malone on the follow up, Blues’ defeat could’ve been heavier.
The win moved Millwall up to eighth in the table, three points off Coventry in sixth, while Birmingham are 16th after a third defeat in their past five matches.
Millwall manager Gary Rowett told BBC Radio London:
“It was a complete performance over the 90 minutes.
“We’ve started really well in a lot of games this season, but what we’ve not managed to do sometimes is score that first goal.
“We’ve been a little bit critical of the fact we don’t think we’ve scored enough this season, or been dangerous enough. We were excellent in the first half and excellent value for our lead.
“Against a team like Birmingham, that’s a difficult way to beat them, because they’re pretty strong on set-pieces and a really physical side.”
Birmingham manager Lee Bowyer told BBC Radio WM:
“People have to do your jobs and you have to mark your man and make sure he doesn’t score. These are the basics of the game and today we were bad at it.
“I just felt that we were too soft and you can’t do that coming here.
“We have to compete and match them and we didn’t. We lost too many individual battles.”
- 3M Wallace
- 11MaloneSubstituted forPearceat 86′minutes
- 7J WallaceSubstituted forKieftenbeldat 83′minutes
- 9BradshawSubstituted forBennettat 89′minutes
- 4RobertsBooked at 50mins
- 3PedersenBooked at 20mins
- 11LovelySubstituted forJutkiewiczat 45′minutes
- 9HoganSubstituted forAnekeat 80′minutes
- Andy Woolmer
Match ends, Millwall 3, Birmingham City 1.
Second Half ends, Millwall 3, Birmingham City 1.
Attempt saved. Chuks Aneke (Birmingham City) left footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal.
Corner, Millwall. Conceded by Neil Etheridge.
Attempt saved. Benik Afobe (Millwall) left footed shot from the right side of the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Dan McNamara.
Attempt missed. Chuks Aneke (Birmingham City) right footed shot from the centre of the box misses to the left.
Substitution, Millwall. Mason Bennett replaces Tom Bradshaw.
Substitution, Millwall. Alex Pearce replaces Scott Malone.
Corner, Millwall. Conceded by Kristian Pedersen.
Tom Bradshaw (Millwall) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Kristian Pedersen (Birmingham City).
Substitution, Millwall. Maikel Kieftenbeld replaces Jed Wallace.
Hand ball by Lukas Jutkiewicz (Birmingham City).
Attempt missed. Kristian Pedersen (Birmingham City) header from the centre of the box is close, but misses the top left corner. Assisted by Jordan Graham with a cross following a corner.
Substitution, Birmingham City. Chuks Aneke replaces Scott Hogan.
Corner, Birmingham City. Conceded by Dan McNamara.
Attempt missed. Murray Wallace (Millwall) header from the centre of the box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Scott Malone with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Millwall. Conceded by Neil Etheridge.
Attempt saved. Scott Malone (Millwall) left footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the top centre of the goal.
Attempt saved. Jed Wallace (Millwall) left footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the centre of the goal.