It looked bad for Town when Nahki Wells was sent off at 1-1 early in the second-half, but goals from Jacob Butterfield and James Vaughan – adding to Sean Scannell’s first-half strike – gave 10-man Town a superb three points at Millwall.
Having taken the lead and being pegged back, Wells’ red gave the initiative to Millwall – but instead an organised Town side went ahead with 15 minutes to go and sealed the win with a late penalty.
Millwall started off slightly better than Town and had the lion’s share of the play in the first quarter of an hour, with former Everton winger Magaye Gueye shooting straight at Smithies and giant 6’ 8” Austrian striker Stefan Maierhofer hitting the outside of the near post from a very acute angle.
Despite this, they looked prone to an error at the back and Town took the lead inside 17 minutes. Having been heavily linked with a move to the Den in the summer, it was ironic that Sean Scannell was the man who netted the first.
Nahki Wells dropped off the defenders to gain possession and lob a ball over left back Mark Beevers and into Scannell’s path. As the hosts looked for offside Sean advanced into the box, steadied himself and powered a comprehensive volley past helpless goalkeeper David Forde to give his side the lead.
That goal, along with several decisions made by referee Mike Jones, riled the home side and players alike and Town took control. They were, however, giving away too many free-kicks in the defensive half – a fact soon punished by the hosts and their physical presence.
After Murray Wallace conceded one such foul in the 28th minute, midfielder Shaun Williams went across and delivered a superb ball towards the back post. Beevers found space to head towards goal and when Smithies saved, David Edgar tried to clear Town’s lines – only to see his drive cannon back off Maierhofer and loop over Smithies.
Millwall took up the ascendancy after the equaliser and Gueye missed a good chance with 10 minutes of the half remaining, stepping infield from the left to capitalise on a slip from Mark Hudson; thankfully for the Terriers, he dragged his left-footed effort just wide of Smithies’ left-hand post from 18 yards out.
Town fought back four minutes later, with Butterfield’s quick switch of play being inexplicably allowed to run by Beevers. Scannell picked up the ball, but from a narrower angle than his earlier goal he volleyed into the outside of the side netting.
Scannell was involved again as Town went even closer to a second in the 41st minute. Coady set the flying winger away down the right and he easily outpaced Williams before intelligently pulling the ball back into the path of Harry Bunn. Playing just off the strikers in a 3-4-1-2 formation, Harry had endured a quiet half – but he deserved better as his beautiful first-time effort struck the face of the crossbar before bouncing to safety.
The final chance of the half came Town’s way again, with Butterfield exchanging a one-two with Jack Robinson before lofting a delicate ball into Wells’ path – his header being pushed over the bar by Forde.
Town’s chances continued to come as the second-half began, with Wells forcing Forde into a save from Butterfield’s corner, but then the tone of the game changed in the 51st minute with a red card.
Nahki Wells had been booked and warned again in the first half by referee Jones and when Williams went over the Bermudian striker to win a header, the referee stopped play and immediately brandished a second yellow – much to the amazement of the Town players.
Chris Powell switched his side to 4-4-1 to try and keep his 10 men solid, but in response Holloway soon threw on Ricardo Fuller and Lee Gregory and his side went more direct.
However, out of nowhere Butterfield restored Town’s lead with just over 15 minutes left. Jimmy Abdou made an error in possession for the hosts and Jacob gained possession and drove forward before hitting a trademark 25 yard drive. Forde looked to have it covered as he dived to his right, but the ball somehow skipped over his body and into the net.
James Vaughan came to the fore late in the game, drifting to Millwall’s right to hold the ball up on several occasions against defenders Alan Dunne and Shaun Cummings.
Harry Bunn had done well down the left in the second half and dramatically earned his side a penalty with five minutes left. Bunn cleverly flicked the ball over a defender and stepped across Dunne before going down, with referee Jones pointing to the spot. Up stepped James Vaughan to send Forde the wrong way and notch at the Den, just as he did in the win here last season.
Ishmael Miller was given a Town debut late in the game by Chris Powell as the home fans left the ground in droves, with Town securing a great win against the second-half odds.
Town’s team (3-4-1-2):
Alex Smithies; Murray Wallace, Mark Hudson (c), David Edgar; Jack Robinson, Jacob Butterfield, Conor Coady, Sean Scannell; Harry Bunn (Oscar Gobern, 90); James Vaughan (Ishmael Miller, 88), Nahki Wells
Lloyd Allinson, Joe Lolley, Joe Wilkinson, Joe Wright, Radoslaw Majewski
Nahki Wells (31); Murray Wallace (55); David Edgar (56)
Town red card:
Nahki Wells (51)