Millwall edged a tight mid-table battle to record their third win on the bounce and continue Gary Rowett’s unbeaten record against his former club.
Michael O’Neill and Stoke came into the matchup looking to record three wins in a row for the first time since October 2016.
They had previously dispatched of Bristol City with ease, winning 2-0 away from home on Good Friday. O’Neill kept the same XI from that game, bringing Sam Clucas and Jordan Cousins onto the bench after both returned from injury.
In the red corner ✊
— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) April 5, 2021
Gary Rowett returned to the club he spent a turbulent eight months at looking to continue his unbeaten record against the Potters since joining Millwall.
He made two enforced changes to his side as Ryan Woods was ineligible against his parent club and Shaun Hutchinson was injured. Kenneth Zohore and Alex Pearce replaced them.
The game began with surprisingly quick intensity, given it was both teams second game in four days.
Despite the sunny outlook, a cold wind was blowing into the bet365 Stadium making it hard for both teams to get the ball down and play.
Stoke had the first opening of the game on 12 minutes as Nick Powell burst into the box, but his ball into the middle was cut out easily.
The home side had control of proceedings, but Millwall gave them a warning sign on 13 minutes as George Evans’ shot was blocked after Jed Wallace had broken forward well.
Powell made the choice to shoot for goal on 24 minutes, to his teammates’ frustration as Jacob Brown and Tommy Smith were in better spaces.
The visitors struggled to create any build up play as the half grew on, with Zohore and Mason Bennett looking more than isolated in the final third.
Brown tested Bart Bialkowski for the first time in the 29th minute, with the Polish international having to parry away a fizzing shot from 25 yards out.
The visitors took the lead against the run of play on 35 minutes, as Murray Wallace scuffed the ball home from six yards out after Stoke had failed to clear their lines from a corner.
That goal gave the Lions the confidence to play the ball around more, and another chance came just minutes later as Pearce headed over from a corner.
The hosts found a leveller with four minutes of the half to go, and it was Brown with his fifth goal of the season.
A brilliant ball from Powell found Steven Fletcher breaking in behind, and his blocked shot found the onrushing Brown for the 22-year-old to force the ball under Bialkowski and into the net.
T E A M! 🥰
— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) April 5, 2021
The Potters started the half well, with Brown nearly fashioning an opening after Rhys Norrington-Davies had raced forward, but the strikers shot was poor and well wide.
Neither team had a foothold on the game with ten minutes of the second period gone by.
Then as the game had been stagnant for fifteen minutes, the visitors found a breakthrough courtesy of some shoddy defending from the Potters.
A chipped ball through and a missed tackle from Danny Batth allowed Jed Wallace to break into the box unmarked and square it across the box for Bennett to tap home with twenty minutes to go.
The goal came slightly against the run of play again, but Stoke had done themselves no favours in gifting the opportunity to their visitors.
The away side enjoyed more of the ball after their goal, similar to the first half. Stoke were running out of ideas even with three of their subs on the pitch.
The game began to peter out with minutes left, with Millwall doing a good job of stifling any attack Stoke threw their way as they stacked the middle of the park with players.
Stoke were unable to mount any meaningful fightback in the dying embers, and Gary Rowett’s side walked away from the bet365 Stadium with all three points.
FT: Stoke City 1-2 Millwall
A game of two halves saw Stoke dominate proceedings in the first period, but undo all their good work in the second.
Michael O’Neill will feel his players threw away a valuable opportunity to continue their recent good form with a sloppy performance in front of goal.
Millwall have won three on the bounce now, with a resolute away performance summing up how Rowett likes to set out his team.
It looks too little too late for a playoff push, but it is certainly good grounds to build on for next season with likely nothing to play for in the remaining games.
Stoke stay 11th after the loss, and face a trip to Birmingham next up. Millwall move one place to ninth and take on Swansea on Saturday.
Match report by Oliver Walton.