IT WAS an unconvincing victory – but a valuable three points.

Luke Beckett briefly illuminated a distinctly foggy evening by slotting home a 29th-minute penalty awarded after he had been fouled by centre-back Zak Whitbread.

The frontman’s 10th goal of the season, seen – just – by a meagre 6,326 crowd, lifted Town to 13th, six points off the play-off zone with 45 still to play for.

Frozen pitches put paid to eight of last night’s scheduled matches, and while the Galpharm’s undersoil heating meant that was not a worry, the visibility was.

If Ashley Jackson painted football matches, it would look something like this, with the low crowd and swirling mist making for an eerie atmosphere.

Millwall’s 130 faithful travelling fans summed the situation up when, midway through the second half, they broke into a chant of “Where are you?”.

Their team answered with a burst of pressure, but Town, with right-back Frank Sinclair outstanding, stood firm for a fifth clean sheet – and win – in seven games.

Mind you Millwall could have been ahead after just 25 seconds.

That’s how long it took for Lewis Grabban and Marcus Bignot to link up and supply a chance for eight-goal top scorer Gary Alexander, whose header had Matt Glennon scrambling to save.

Town responded by creating early chances for Phil Jevons, who shot over from distance, and Andy Holdsworth, who fired wide from Chris Brandon’s lay-off.

Then Alexander wriggled past Nathan Clarke only to drive the ball too high before he was denied by Sinclair’s fine challenge as he shaped to shoot from Ahmet Brkovic’s cross in the 17th minute, the move having been started by on-loan Arsenal winger Jay Simpson’s lovely crossfield pass.

Sinclair, Jevons and Michael Collins combined to force a throw-in which in turn led to a corner, taken by Robbie Williams, from which Rob Page’s header was blocked on the line by Marc Laird.

Holdsworth’s nicely-weighted through ball had keeper Rhys Evans racing out of his area to clear in the 25th minute before the crucial goal arrived.

Dave Brammer’s up and under of a clearance was returned towards the penalty box by Clarke and Beckett got goalside of Whitbread.

The foul was not in doubt, although Millwall argued that the initial offence occurred outside the area.

Tyne and Wear referee Colin Webster pointed straight to the spot, but elected to show only a yellow card to the defender.

Evans dived the right way, but Beckett’s right-foot shot was placed neatly in the left-hand corner.

Glennon made solid saves from shots by Brkovic, in the 36th minute, and Simpson, in the 37th.

Meanwhile two minutes into the second half, with the referee having switched from a white to orange ball, Holdsworth headed onto the roof of the net from Collins’ cross.

Both Page and Jevons tried unsuccessfully to connect with Williams’ inviting 54th-minute centre, Beckett’s 59th-minute header was tipped over and James Berrett shot wide from Brandon’s 69th-minute lay-off.

In between, it took another fine tackle by Sinclair to dispossess Millwall’s Simpson deep inside the Town penalty area.

Brammer headed just wide from Danny Senda’s quickly-taken free-kick in the 74th minute.

And soon after Grabban’s cross just evaded Ali Fuseini.

Whistler Webster waved away Millwall’s appeal for a penalty when Adrian Forbes went down under a challenge by Williams, and Senda was then booked for diving.

Meanwhile Williams came close to his first home Town goal with two minutes to go, his glancing header from Holdsworth’s corner missing the target by inches.

Player ratings

Matt Glennon

Town’s stopper was solid and confident looking in keeping a fifth clean sheet in seven outings.


Frank Sinclair

The Londoner was Town’s top man at Chelsea and again last night, when he made some vital tackles.


Robbie Williams

Very steady. Tackled well, delivered some decent crosses and came close to a first home Town goal.


Andy Holdsworth

Worked hard but seems to be suffering in the absence of Jon Worthington. A reunion would be good.


Nathan Clarke

Another solid show from the centre-back who has really benefited from the arrival of Rob Page.


Rob Page

Worked well with Clarke to stifle the threat of Millwall’s eight-goal top scorer Gary Alexander.


Michael Collins

Was the pick of Town’s midfield quartet. Workrate high and was always looking to spark an attack.


James Berrett

Steady but not spectacular on his fifth Town start, but let’s remember, he’s still learning!


Luke Beckett

His alert run won the penalty which provided Town’s winner and he put it away with aplomb.


Phil Jevons

Kept going all the way through but didn’t get the rub of the green and came off with 21 minutes left.


Chris Brandon

Plenty of perspiration and running on the left flank but unable to make a real impact on this one.


Town substitutions

Andy Booth for Jevons, 69mins; Malvin Kamara for Berrett, 73mins. Not used: Danny Schofield, David Mirfin, Simon Eastwood.


Evans, Bignot, Robinson, Whitbread, Senda, Grabban, Laird, Brammer (Fuseini, 62mins), Brkovic, Alexander, Simpson (Forbes, 74mins).

Subs not used: Edwards, Frampton, Harris.

Cautions: Whitbread, Senda.

Ref watch

Colin Webster, Town’s third Tyne and Wear-based referee in succession, must have thought long and hard about whether to give this game the go-ahead given the foggy conditions. But he didn’t need to think twice about Town’s penalty.

Some officials might have red carded Zak Whitbread for the foul, but with two other defenders in the vicinity, Webster went for yellow.