Millwall 0-2 Birmingham City Six Things: solid Blues defeat 10-man Lions

Michael Morrison fires home the second – bbc.co.uk

Birmingham City moved up to 10th in the Championship thanks to a 2-0 victory at struggling Millwall. Here’s Six Things from the game.

Birmingham’s bright start

Garry Monk’s side began the side strongly with Connor Mahoney getting in behind James Meredith thanks to some bright runs. It was Che Adams though who set up the opener, out-pacing an out-of-sorts Shaun Hutchinson to reach the byline before hitting the far post; Jutkiewicz was ready to tap home but it was the unfortunate Meredith who got the final touch.

Leonard’s red card

Ryan Leonard’s ability from long throws has been crucial this season for Millwall, who have struggled to create in open play. The former Southend midfielder though was sent off for a second bookable offence on the half-hour, following a strong challenge on the typically tenacious Maikel Kieftenbeld. The last time we saw a sending off in this fixture, Blues romped to a 6-0 victory but, after missing one or two opportunities to kill the game off, they had to endure nervier spells than they did back in 2012.

Millwall pressure

Monk’s side struggled to retain possession well in the defensive third, which meant they invited Millwall to launch diagonal balls into Steve Morison, who looked for an aerial advantage against Harlee Dean. The visiting rear-guard though stood strong and, despite giving the ball away cheaply, the likes of Michael Morrison and Kristian Pedersen did the basics well enough to deny the South Bermondsey outfit any clear-cut chances.

Monk’s clever switch

Replacing a right-winger, Connor Mahoney, with another right-back, Wes Harding, looked a defensive change from Garry Monk but in fact it re-balanced the side. Mahoney had been guilty of bottling out of the odd challenge whereas Harding – who moved to right-back as Colin shuffled further up – offered the athleticism to keep the hosts at bay. Instead of a nervy finale, therefore, Jordan Archer’s spill allowed the imperious Morrison to finish from close range to ensure a comfortable end, as Millwall probed uncharacteristically passively on the half-way line.

Lions must strengthen

On the one hand, it would be harsh to judge Neil Harris’ side too critically on a performance in which they were playing with 10-men for an hour. However, the display does highlight the need to add to their attacking options in January; Steve Morison no longer has the legs to sustain a high-intensity performance for 90 minutes while there are question marks over the fitness of Tom Elliott. When Harris looked to his bench, he saw in his attacking options Aiden O’Brien, a good finisher but somebody who possibly does not suit 4-4-2 and Jiri Skalak, who can cross but is yet to endear himself to the natives. The manager needs players in reserve who can inject fresh energy into Millwall’s display.

Blues bounce back

After Sunday’s 4-2 Derby Day defeat to Aston Villa, a victory was vital for Blues. More pleasingly, the team that have conceded 10 goals in the preceding three games have kept a clean sheet, in an organized display. Improvements can be made in terms of the team’s use of the ball, especially from deep; the B9 outfit need a centre-back and a central midfielder who can show more care in possession if they are to mount a challenge in the longer-term. More disciplined displays like this however, will mean that safety can be secured early in the campaign.