The Millwall manager Mark McGhee's emphatic assertion that Manchester City can now run away with the First Division title will attract little argument after Kevin Keegan's side overcame the handicap of an eighth-minute red card to record the seventh straight victory of a compelling run of form at Maine Road last night.
It took City until the final 12 minutes for the irrepressible Shaun Goater to score the goals that made their superiority count after the promotion contenders Millwall had fought at times desperately to restrict them to a point. But McGhee graciously admitted that anything other than a win for City would have been an injustice.
"They are in a different class," he said. "It did not matter that it took them until late in the game to score they deserved to win and if we had managed to hold out for a point they would have felt gutted.
"The fact they were down to 10 men so soon was irrelevant. I'd seen them beat Norwich after getting a man sent off early so I knew it would not be a problem for them. I can't see anyone else winning the title."
Danny Tiatto, sent off in the 11th minute against Norwich, was still serving his sentence last night. Now City will have to manage for three games without the creative influence of Ali Benarbia after the Algerian was dismissed for elbowing Millwall's Marc Bircham, who had been pulling his shirt.
On last night's evidence, however, they will manage nicely. Eyal Berkovic did the work of two men in pulling the midfield strings and all around the field there were impressive performances. Stuart Pearce had a first-half penalty saved by Millwall's valiant goalkeeper, Tony Warner, but the tireless efforts of Darren Huckerby and Shaun Wright-Phillips to break down the stubborn resistance of the London side unbeaten in nine before this defeat were rewarded when Goater put away his 27th and 28th goals of the season to clinch the points.
City's arch-goal poacher had been restricted to a relatively quiet night but when the unlucky Wright-Phillips, who had been a coat of a paint from scoring twice in the first half, hit an upright after 77 minutes with Warner beaten, Goater was quickest to react. He added his second four minutes from the end after Huckerby's persistence had carved out a second tap-in.
"After Ali was sent off, everybody played like two men," Keegan said. "I was so proud of them and I would have told them so even if we had lost.
"There are still a lot of points to be won before we can talk about winning the title, but if there is a team playing better than us at the moment I'd pay money to watch them."
Manchester City (3-5-2): Weaver; Dunne, Wiekens, Pearce; Wright-Phillips, Benarbia, Horlock, Berkovic, Jensen; Huckerby, Goater (Dickov, 90). Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Ritchie, Edghill, Killen.
Millwall (3-5-2): Warner; Ward (Lawrence, h-t), Nethercott, Dyche; Ifill, Cahill, Bircham (Ryan, h-t), Livermore, Reid; Naylor, Sadlier (Harris, 69). Substitutes not used: Gueret (gk), Bull.
Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).
* Robert Prosinecki came up with the vital goal to give Portsmouth and their manager, Graham Rix, some much needed relief in a 1-0 win at Nottingham Forest last night. Pompey, with eight defeats in their previous nine games, were heading for a draw against a Forest side who themselves have yet to win in 2002. But seven minutes from time Prosinecki struck with a 22-yard free kick after the Forest defender Jon Hjelde had brought down Kevin Harper.