PETER CLARKE powered Town a step closer to the League I play-offs – and provided the perfect 44th birthday present for owner-chairman Dean Hoyle.
The skipper’s first-half header was enough to separate the sides in front of the Sky Sports cameras, and give sixth-placed Town their first win over a side in the top five this season.
As well as doing arch-rivals Leeds a big favour, Town’s win increased the chances of a Millwall rematch should Lee Clark’s side make the play-offs.
They are now six points clear of seventh-placed Colchester, who are at Hartlepool today and have still to come to the Galpharm.
Colchester boss Aidy Boothroyd was at last night’s game, while Town chief Lee Clark will watch Colchester today.
Town had Lee Peltier back after two games out with an ankle injury, but he was in the unfamiliar position of left rather than right-back, with Australian World Cup hopeful Dean Heffernan absent because of a leg problem.
It meant a wasted trip to Huddersfield for Graham Arnold, assistant coach of the Aussie national team.
Millwall were missing on-loan Ipswich midfielder Liam Trotter (hamstring) and left veteran striker Neil Harris on the bench, with Marc Laird and Chris Hackett coming into the team.
Boss Kenny Jackett was forced to make a fourth-minute change after an injury to Shaun Batt.
On-loan Tottenham striker Jon Obika came on, and flashed a shot across the face of goal soon after.
Other than a low shot by Hackett which was deflected for a corner, it was to be Millwall’s only attack of note in the first half.
Town, with Gary Roberts to the fore, were playing some slick stuff, and had a penalty shout in the 10th minute, when the winger crossed, although it seemed to be a case of ball to right-back Jack Smith’s hand.
Roberts was again the supplier in the 15th minute, when Theo Robinson cut in from the left and tested keeper David Forde with a low drive.
Tom Clarke shot just off target when fed from midfielder Danny Drinkwater’s 22nd-minute free-kick (Smith was booked for the foul on Roberts), then when the right-back won a corner in the 34th minute, Neal Trotman headed into the side-netting.
Four minutes later, Drinkwater, Anthony Pilkington, Robinson and Roberts combined to set up Jordan Rhodes, whose flicked shot went just wide.
Town finally got the goal their dominance deserved in the 39th minute, when Peltier’s persistence earned a corner.
Pilkington flighted the ball in from the Town left, and Peter Clarke headed home at the back post.
Millwall were looking distinctly uncomfortable.
And when Pilkington held off left-back Tony Craig to cross, Robinson looked set to score, but he was unable to control first time, allowing Smith to make a crucial block.
The Londoners showed they weren’t going to lie down by starting the second half strongly and Paul Robinson had a header from Hackett’s corner blocked, then Laird nodded just wide.
Manager Jackett then brought on Harris for Hackett in a bid to maintain his side’s momentum.
Town were still threatening and Robinson had a great chance in the 54th minute, but misjudged his chip and sent the ball wide.
But it was Millwall who were doing the bulk of the attacking, and Obika’s 73rd-minute header glanced off the bar before Alex Smithies parried Steve Morison’s follow-up effort.
There was tension in the closing stages as the visitors pushed hard, but Town held firm for a vital victory.
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