"The only way is up, baby, for you and me now."
The Rowett revolution continues in South London and the first game of 2020 had the classic cliche of a game of two halves. After a disappointing first half that saw the Lions perform a tune as downbeat as a Fairytale in New York, the mood lifted after a stunning triumvirate of goals and the home fans were left singing the Yazz classic, 'The Only Way is Up.'
The game started at a fast pace and saw an early effort from Jed Wallace in the 8th minute, but his chance from distance after dispossessing Ryan Tunnicliffe was high and over the bar.
With Matt Smith starting the game for the Lions, the tactics had reverted from previous games to a long ball mentality, but unfortunately this was not working in Millwall's favour and the soft header by Smith from a Jed Wallace free-kick in the 14th minute was easily gathered by Shea in the Luton goal.
Smith had another chance again in the 23rd minute when his near post header from Jed Wallace was towards goal, but it went wide of target and the home fans groaned in disappointment at such a flat start to the game.
Luton's game plan of frustrating Millwall was working and as the latter aforementioned song lyrics suggested, we'd been broken down to the lowest turn. The Hatters' stifling tactics and time wasting indicated that even early on they were at The Den just for a draw and their first real chance of the game came in the 33rd minute when Bree hit a low curling drive towards goal. Previous 'keepers may've struggled with the direction of the ball, but Bialkowski gathered brilliantly.
Luton took the lead completely against the run of play in the 40th minute when a free-kick was swung in and headed into the Millwall net by Sonny Bradley. This proved to be the last real chance of the game and the players left the field to boos from the crowd and being on the bottom line sure ain't no fun.
Gary Rowett's half-time words must have still been ringing in the Lions' ears early into the second half as the two long range shots from Jed Wallace in the opening five minutes were more entertaining than the 45 minutes that preceded it.
Millwall should have been awarded a penalty in the 59th minute when a corner in front of the Cold Blow Lane end came in towards Jake Cooper, but the tall defender could not connect as he was wrestled to the floor and nearly had hit shirt ripped off, but the referee surprisingly waved away the protests of the players, dug out, fans, Zampa Road and most of South Bermondsey.
The Lions did not need to hold on (hold on) as it wouldn't be long until they equalised. Some nice link up play from Jed Wallace and Aiden O'Brien resulted in the former launching a cross into the penalty area in the 69th minute. The cross was headed down neatly by Matt Smith on the far post into the path of Tom Bradshaw, who headed the ball in from close range.
Within ten minutes, the Lions had took the lead with a moment of sheer quality. After a tricky start to his Millwall career, Conor Mahoney is now back on track after his top class finish in the 78th minute. Picking up the ball on the left hand side, Mahoney impressively twisted and turned his way out of trouble and buried the ball into the bottom corner from 20 yards out. An amazing goal from a player with undoubted ability and potential, Mahoney had the whole stadium in jubilation and rocketed the South London club to 6th place.
The game was over in the 81st minute when Mahoney turned provider and crossed the perfect pass to Matt Smith in the Luton penalty area. The tall forward leapt like a salmon escaping his prey and met the ball at exactly the right time to beat the advancing Shea in the Luton goal. Again, the Lions fans roared their approval as the home side opened up a two goal lead.
The final whistle sounded and after a poor first half, Millwall dusted themselves down and showed just why they need to have more attention paid to them in this division. No longer are we looking over our shoulders and at the trap door, as with Gary Rowett in charge, the only way is up.
Millwall: Bialkowski, Hutchinson, Cooper, Williams, J. Wallace (M. Wallace 84'), Smith, Ferguson, Romeo, Pearce (Bradshaw 42'), Molumby, O'Brien (Mahoney 71').
Subs not used: Steele, Bodvarsson, Skalak, Mitchell.
Luton Town: Shea, Cranie, Tunnicliffe, Bradley, Pearson, McManaman (Berry 62'), Mpanzu, Collins, Lualua (Cornick 75'), Bree, Sheehan (Bolton 82').
Subs not used: Stech, Shinnie, Jones, Butterfield.