Millwall 1 – 0 Reading

Benik Afobe poached the only goal of the game as Millwall made it five wins from their last seven games in the Championship with a 1-0 victory over Reading.

A double change at half-time by the Lions led to a vast improvement after the break, following a drab first half at The Den, and they were able to lift themselves to eighth in the table.

This, however, was a fourth straight defeat for the injury-ravaged Royals and they failed to register a shot on target during an insipid display in south London.

The visitors included 19-year-old Tyrell Ashcroft at right-back for his senior debut, while every outfield player on their bench was his age or younger.

Although Reading manager Veljko Paunovic was not present at The Den, following his positive Covid-19 test, he was directing operations from home.

Millwall’s Jed Wallace tested Reading goalkeeper Luke Southwood in the fourth minute with a free-kick from 25 yards that the youngster was able to push behind.

Southwood had to be alert halfway through the first half to come out and make a smothering save from Afobe, who had been played through by Wallace’s fine pass.

They were fairly rare openings in what was a quiet first half-hour, in which the visitors were not able to make any inroads.

The chances dried up for the Lions as half-time approached as well, with Billy Mitchell trying to force the issue by shooting wide from 25 yards after a decent run not long before the break.

There was still time before the players went back to the changing rooms for Reading’s Ovie Ejaria to shoot across the face of goal and wide from a narrow angle.

Millwall almost had a lucky break on the hour mark as Ryan Leonard’s cross from the right ended up hitting the face of the bar.

Mason Bennett, one of the players introduced at half-time, then drew another good stop from Southwood with a rising effort from just outside the box.

The pressure finally told in the 71st minute when Wallace played a lovely ball over the top for Leonard to run on to and his low cross allowed Afobe to slide the ball into the open goal.

Reading’s best chance to equalise came after 77 minutes when Ashcroft’s cross ran through to top scorer John Swift, who was able to control but not find the target as he curled his effort over.

Millwall, for whom this was a deserved three points, almost had a second with nine minutes left as Wallace cut the ball back for Leonard, who fired his first-time shot from the edge of the area wide.

What the managers said…

Millwall assistant Adam Barrett: “I just thought, in the second half, that we were a lot more aggressive. The intensity of the press went up – I thought Mason Bennett coming on and dealing with [Josh] Laurent was a big factor in it. I thought he was excellent when he came on, Mason. Laurent in the first half was getting too much freedom of the park to do what he wanted and they’ve got good players – they’ve got [John] Swift and [Ovie] Ejaria, who are technically very good.

“I thought when Mason came on and stopped Laurent getting on the ball, all of a sudden people could back it up and the intensity of the press was there. The directness of us was led by the front players, which was excellent, and we backed it up all over the park. Billy Mitchell was superb in there, second half, and Jed [Wallace] worked his socks off again.”

Reading’s Veljko Paunovic: “Maybe in the first 10-15 minutes we didn’t have a good start, but then we got on the ball. We changed our shape and the players needed to figure out a little bit how to play in that system and when we did, we controlled the game perfectly. In the second half they switched their system, but I don’t think it was about systems today. We just ran out of tank in the second half and we couldn’t do more in the final 15 minutes.”

“I’m feeling grateful, and thankful, that I had the opportunity to be double-vaccinated. I really feel fine, despite the positive test, and I’m only feeling minor symptoms. It was horrible being away from the team.”

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