BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Chris Hughton praised the mettle of his Brighton side as they hauled themselves back from the brink of an FA Cup exit to emerge 5-4 penalty shootout winners at Millwall.
The Lions were in a brilliant position to progress as they led 2-0 going into the final few moments of the tie.
But Jurgen Locadia smashed home for the visitors before David Martin’s mistake in the fifth minute of added time – which saw Solly March’s free-kick squirm into the net – took the match into extra time.
Mahlon Romeo and Jake Cooper failed to convert their spot-kicks – the latter in sudden death – as Millwall bowed out.
Hughton said: “The first word that comes to mind is character.
“Credit to Millwall – for what they wanted to do, they did it very well today.
“Although we had a lot of possession they limited us to minimal chances – what you’d regard as good chances.
“At 2-0 down you’re out of the competition. I felt that we could get one back, because of the balance of play – and how much possession we had. To get two back shows great character.
“And missing the first penalty and them scoring their first three also shows great character and composure from players who desperately wanted to go through.”
The Albion boss rejected any claims that Millwall took his side by surprise.
“I don’t think so,” said Hughton. “We could not have done any more this week on the training pitch and in videos that we showed to know what the threat was. This is a club here with a great record in cup competitions, certainly here, and a difficult place to come.
“I don’t think we played at a level enough to be a big enough threat. If we score early then maybe the game opens up in the way Millwall play and they’ve got to take more chances.
“Until we got that goal, they were in a position they weren’t going to change the way they played and they’d look for their moments.”
Asked about the free-kick equaliser – Hughton admitted he thought March has over-hit it before Martin’s intervention took the ball into the net.
“I might not have showed it but inside I was going mad because that was probably going to be our last good opportunity,” said Hughton. “When you got your Murrays, your Duffys and your Dunks, we always have a chance on free-kicks.
“Yes, I thought that was our chance gone.
“He [March] is a very honest lad, so I imagine he isn’t [claiming he intended it]. What we are is very grateful for his contribution when he came on.
“If we’re looking for changing the game, he certainly played a big part in the change – giving us a different dimension and getting us the victory.”
Hughton also felt VAR would have changed three big moments.
“I only know this because people tell me,” he said. “But the feeling is we should have had a penalty for [a foul on Shane] Duffy, there was foul – very well-worked I must admit – before their first goal and Montoya is through and because the flag goes up so early my first thought is he must be offside – but I was told not so long after that he wasn’t.
“I don’t think it would have been a case of the Millwall defenders getting back and stopping it.
“There are moments in the game that go for and against you. They are three that have gone against us. Solly’s bit of fortune has gone for us.”
IMAGE BY BRIAN TONKS