Manchester City moved up to third in the First Division with a thrilling win over Mark McGhee's young Millwall side last night not that any visiting supporters were there to witness it, security concerns having seen the Maine Road club refused tickets for the game.
When Steve Claridge made it 2-2 from the penalty spot with 13 minutes to go, Danny Tiatto having been harshly adjudged to have handled in the area, it looked as though the 35-year-old striker had denied City their second away win in four days. However, Shaun Wright-Phillips, some 15 years his junior, fired in a ferocious 20-yard drive to score his first goal for the club with six minutes to go.
"It's been a long time coming but it's been worth waiting for his finish was excellent," City's manager, Kevin Keegan, said. "He is a very good player and he'll get better."
Keegan should be content with the way his team are emerging as credible promotion contenders. "It was a fantastic game with some great football played out there and a good win for us," he said. "I told my players the only people here for them were in the dressing-room. Eight directors braved it and that was Manchester City here tonight. I was really proud of them. I thought they did really well and played some great football."
An undistinguished first half was brought to life in the 23rd minute when, almost inevitably, Shaun Goater gave City the lead. The big Bermudan striker is averaging a goal a game and he maintained that rate with his 22nd goal of the season, getting on the end of Wright-Phillips' cross to steer the ball past Tony Warner. The goal was met with almost complete silence in the absence of City supporters.
However, even devoid of vocal encouragement, the visitors went on to dominate the rest of the half though, Ali Benarbia testing Warner from 20 yards. Little had been seen of Millwall as an attacking force but on the stroke of half-time, they equalised. David Livermore's shot was only parried by City goalkeeper Carlo Nash and the Irish striker Richard Sadlier stroked home the rebound.
However, the goal did little to alter the pattern of the game after the break. Keegan had been true to his cavalier instincts by selecting a midfield containing both the stylish Benarbia and the playmaker Eyal Berkovic and at times their slick passing movements bewildered the home side.
Darren Huckerby should have done better after Berkovic had split the Millwall defence yet a second goal for City was becoming inevitable. In the 68th minute, Benarbia turned his marker on the edge of the six-yard box and laid the ball back for Huckerby to score his 13th goal in 12 games.
Millwall (4-4-2): Warner; Ryan (Ifill, 77), Dyche, Nethercott, Green; Reid, Bircham, Cahill, Livermore; Claridge, Sadlier. Substitutes not used: Gueret (gk), Ward, Bull, Braniff.
Manchester City (3-5-2): Nash; Wiekens, Mettomo, Dunne; Tiatto (Granville, 90), Horlock, Berkovic, Benarbia, Wright-Phillips; Huckerby, Goater. Substitutes not used: Weaver (gk), Ritchie, Negouai, Killen.
Referee: C Wilkes (Gloucester).