Weary Albion missed the opportunity to overtake Burnley and claim second place in the First Division behind their Black Country rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers, after the loss of two goals inside the opening half hour proved beyond their powers of recovery at The Hawthorns last night.
Obliged by the demands of television to play only 48 hours after their Worthington Cup defeat to Charlton on Tuesday, the home side paid a heavy price and their manager, Gary Megson, made his displeasure clear after seeing his side rarely threaten to overcome a leaden-footed start.
"Without taking credit from Millwall, who played very well, it was a massive disadvantage for us. We were tired in both body and mind and I could tell by the mood before the game that we were an accident waiting to happen," Megson said.
Even with three changes to Tuesday's line-up, Albion could not resist Millwall's eager opening and defended poorly. Both goals for Mark McGhee's improving side, now unbeaten in five matches, came from the striker Richard Sadlier, who had clearly heeded the advice of his manager to be more ruthless in front of goal after finding the net only once in his previous nine appearances.
The 22-year-old Sadlier chased a flighted through ball by his veteran partner, Steve Claridge, to open the scoring after 18 minutes. Cutting inside energetically from the left flank and outpacing the defender Larus Sigurdsson, he drove the ball firmly into the bottom left-hand corner of Brian Jensen's goal.
Worse was to follow for Albion as another fast break from the Millwall attack doubled their lead. Following a misplaced pass by the wing-back Des Lyttle, Claridge accelerated into a typical bustling run, again exposing the right side of the home defence as suspect, before pulling the ball back across goal. His pass found David Livermore, whose shot would have troubled Jensen on its own had the predatory Sadlier not deflected it beyond his reach.
Megson responded by taking off the defender Darren Moore and bringing on a striker, Bob Taylor, switching from 3-5-2 to 4-4-2. More substitutions followed at half-time, Lyttle giving way to Adam Chambers and Michael Appleton to Wayne Cummings. The consequence was a marked shift in the balance of play, although with Millwall happy to defend in numbers clear chances for the home side were in short supply.
Scott Dobie, a £150,000 bargain replacement for Lee Hughes, worked impressively hard but missed Albion's best opportunity, heading straight into the arms of Tony Warner from Neil Clement's cross.
West Bromwich Albion (3-5-2): Jensen; Sigurdsson, Moore (Taylor, 30), Gilchrist; Lyttle (A Chambers, h-t), Johnson, McInnes, Appleton (Cumings, h-t), Clement; Fox, Dobie. Substitutes not used: Adamson (gk), Butler.
Millwall (3-5-2): Warner; Ward, Nethercott, Dyche; Reid, Bircham (Ifill, 57), Cahill, Livermore, Bull; Sadlier, Claridge. Substitutes not used: Guéret (gk), Odunsi, Savarese, Phillips.
Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).Reuse content