Ollie’s unearthed unlikely hero
IF Millwall fans had been looking for someone to pin their survival hopes on, it is a safe bet Stefan Maierhofer was not the first person who sprang to mind.
When Austrian striker Maierhofer landed at the Den last month on a short term deal, he had not played professionally since last season and had been without a club since leaving FC Koln last summer.
But after Maierhofer worked his way towards full match fitness, Millwall boss Ian Holloway has started to put him into battle and he got his rewards at the Riverside Stadium yesterday.
Maierhofer, a peripheral former Bayern Munich forward, was hit a goal double in the 16th and the 30th minutes to put Millwall in control on Teesside and, despite a brilliant free-kick from Emmanuel Ledesma ten minutes before the end, the victory was secured. And, while Middlesbrough's play- offs hopes are effectively over, the three points lift Millwall out of the relegation zone ahead of tomorrow’s visit of Doncaster, who are level on points with three games remaining.
It could be that the towering figure of Maierhofer has come good at just the right time – and Holloway is certainly hoping so.
Holloway said: “We’ve got to keep going. We’re unbeaten in five now. It’s a good job our fella’s big enough that he can head it in the net.They couldn’t handle our man up there. “I’m delighted for him. He’s helped our results since I put him in the team. He’s an honest boy who works his socks off and he’s proved he can score.
“He’s unlocked the door for other people around him and Lee Martin is playing exceptionally well. He looks as good as he’s ever looked.”
Martin’s deliveries created both goals for Maierhofer and both were headers, the first centrally in the box after a corner was only half cleared and the second a back-post finish when unmarked.
While Millwall are unbeaten in their last five, winning three, Middlesbrough’s four-match winning run came to an end. Defensively they were poor after Aitor Karanka scrapped the wing-backs and reverted to a four-man defence after the second goal had gone in.
Hope was raised when Ledesma curled in his 20-yard free-kick with ten minutes remaining after Danny Graham was fouled on the edge of the area. Still, though, Millwall created the clearer cut chances and Martin had a third ruled out for offside when he reacted to a Scott McDonald shot which was saved.
Karanka, whose side are now seven points shy of the top six
left ahead of the trip to Reading on Tuesday, said:“It’s difficult for me to understand how a team of 11 players who beat Burnley away last week couldn’t beat Millwall at home.
“I think we need to improve, to learn from this game, because if we want to do something in the future, we need to be stronger – not just on the pitch, we need to be stronger in our mentality.
“The problem is that you can’t let them go 2-0 up at half-time. We had won four games in a row, and we had a very good opportunity to get the fifth one and we didn’t get it. We need to learn from this for the future, because It was very frustrating.”
BIG MOMENT: Stefan Maierhofer scores the first of his goal double for Millwall
free-kick TOO LATE:Ledesma scores