Jacob Brown stars as Stoke beat Millwall
Jacob Brown inspired a much-needed 2-0 victory over Millwall to relieve pressure on Stoke boss Michael O’Neill.
Without a win in eight league games entering the fixture, the Potters took an early lead through Brown’s accurate header and doubled their advantage through a George Saville own goal after the hour mark.
Jed Wallace’s missed penalty compounded a miserable return to Stoke for former boss Gary Rowett, whose Millwall side saw their eight-match unbeaten run brought to an end.
After making five changes from a midweek defeat at Cardiff, O’Neill’s rotated side started brightly with Brown threatening in the early stages.
Despite a relatively slow start, the fixture sprung into life when Tyler Burey – the Lions’ only line-up change in the absence of the ineligible loanee Benik Afobe – nearly opened the scoring.
After powering his way into the Stoke box, the 21-year-old’s low cross from a tight angle nearly snuck in at the near post, but Jack Bonham got down quickly to save.
The visitors spent the remainder of the opening period in their own half.
Taylor Harwood-Bellis connected well with a Lewis Baker set-piece, but Danny McNamara was on hand with a crucial intervention to keep the scores level.
However, the defender’s goal-line block proved to be in vain, with the Lions eventually succumbing to the hosts’ pressure from the following corner inside 19 minutes.
Brown met another Baker delivery with conviction and his header nestled in the far corner beyond a despairing Bartosz Bialkowski – an 11th strike of the season for the Stoke forward.
The goal marked the end of an eight-hour run without conceding for Millwall, who had kept five clean sheets in a row prior to the tie.
Rowett’s side – harbouring late promotion ambitions after an impressive start to the calendar year – looked uncharacteristically brittle defensively after the restart, with Brown twice denied in quick succession.
The Potters’ top marksman raced through on goal before a poor touch allowed Jake Cooper to recover, while Murray Wallace was also needed to thwart the goalscorer.
Brown then squandered another chance to double the home side’s advantage when his tame header from point-blank range struck the foot of a post, but his blushes were soon saved.
Another enticing Baker set-piece was flicked on inadvertently by Saville into his own net to give Stoke some breathing space.
The 985 travelling Lions supporters thought they had a lifeline when Tom Bradshaw was felled in the area, but Wallace’s powerful penalty was saved well by Bonham to compound a flat performance.
The result hands O’Neill’s side a first victory since February 8, while Millwall missed out on the opportunity to close the gap on the play-off fray.
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