Charlton suffered their first defeat since the return of the Championship as Jake Cooper’s 81st minute goal proved the difference at The Valley on Friday night.
Lee Bowyer made seven changes from Tuesday’s 0-0 draw at Cardiff, reverting back to the same starting XI that secured 1-0 wins against Hull City and Queens Park Rangers in June.
Switching from five at the back to four, Tom Lockyer and Jason Pearce retained their places at the heart of the Addicks defence while Deji Oshilaja and Adam Matthews replaced Alfie Doughty and George Lapslie who had started as wing-backs in Wales.
Josh Cullen began in centre midfield, partnered by Darren Pratley, with Albie Morgan on the left and Aiden McGeady on the right. Up front, Tomer Hemed and Macauley Bonne came into the side at the expense of Andre Green and Chuks Aneke.
Charlton started with the kind of intensity one would expect for a crucial south-London derby and had a pair of half-chances inside the opening two minutes. First, Morgan smashed a volley into the belly of Cooper before Hemed couldn’t fully connect with a shot from the edge of the box as the Addicks began brightly under a blanket of heavy rain.
After the frantic opening exchanges, the game settled into a tight affair, although Charlton were handed an early warning sign when Matt Smith headed over from a free-kick.
Millwall started to take control as the match ticked towards the first half water break, the visitors using their aerial supremacy to dominate from set-piece situations, and Dillon Phillips had to remain alert to claim a Smith header.
Charlton’s best chance of the half came in the 35th minute when a brilliant Lockyer tackle on the half-way line sent Bonne through on goal, but the striker’s effort was saved from a tight angle.
Just moments later, Millwall broke down the other end and nearly took the lead themselves. Fortunately, Jed Wallace’s path to goal was blocked by Phillips and the in-form ‘keeper managed to push the ball clear.
Forced to defend a constant stream of set-pieces throughout the half, Charlton had a chance to strike first in the 42nd minute with a free-kick of their own. Pearce reacted quickest to flick the ball forward, but Hemed couldn’t hit the target with his volley on the turn.
Charlton played on the break for much of the first half but continuously looked dangerous each time they went forward and the hosts had the final chance of the opening period deep into stoppage time. McGeady carried the ball to the edge of the Millwall box, but saw his shot deflected wide as the two sides headed into the break level at 0-0.
The Addicks first half display was filled with diligent defending and it took a tremendous last-ditch tackle to keep Millwall at bay in the opening moments of the second half. Wallace got to the byline and pulled the ball back to Smith, but Lockyer somehow managed to wriggle in front of the striker and deny him a clear strike at goal.
Heading into the final 25 minutes of the match, Charlton started to push forward and Hemed clipped the outside of the post with a glancing header. Aneke was next to try his luck, but his shot was saved at the near post before Pratley headed over from the ensuing corner.
Lockyer then fired a mis-timed volley high over the bar from eight yards out when a corner broke kindly to him at the back-post.
Enjoying their best spell of the match and dominating the second-half chances, Charlton were dealt a sucker-punch in the 81st minute as Millwall snatched the lead. Phillips saved Mahoney’s initial effort, but couldn’t react in time to deny Cooper’s follow-up, smashed high into the net.
Charlton pushed for an equaliser in the five minutes of stoppage time, but couldn’t create any final clear-cut chances as Millwall ran out 1-0 winners at The Valley.
Charlton: Phillips; Oshilaja (Doughty 75), Lockyer, Pearce ©, Matthews; Cullen, Pratley (Sarr 90), Morgan (Field 45), McGeady (Williams 75); Bonne (Aneke 64), Hemed
Subs (not used): Amos, Purrington, Forster-Caskey, Green
Booked: Oshilaja (43 foul on Romeo), Pearce (79 foul on Wallace), Lockyer (95 foul on Thompson)
Millwall: Bialkowski, M Wallace, Hutchinson, Cooper, J Wallace (Williams 86), Smith (Bradshaw 65), Romeo (Mitchell 76), Pearce, Molumby (Thompson 46), Leonard (Mahoney 75), Woods
Subs (not used): Steele, Ferguson, Skalak, Burey
Goal: Cooper 81’
Booked: Molumby (30’ foul on Morgan)
Referee: Dean Whitestone
Attendance: 0 (Behind closed doors)
Referee: Dean Whitestone
Report by Benjy Nurick