BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Millwall saw their FA Cup quarter-final hopes ended – but only after an unbelievable finish to their tie against Brighton & Hove Albion.
The Lions looked as if they were heading to Wembley and a last-four slot after Alex Pearce headed them into a 70th-minute lead. And when Aiden O’Brien cut home a second with 11 minutes of normal time remaining, it looked game over.
But Brighton substitute Jurgen Locadia slammed home from a tight angle in the 88th minute to give the visitors renewed hope.
But the equaliser was tough to stomach. Shane Ferguson – later dismissed in extra-time for a foul on Lewis Dunk – gave away a free-kick. And Solly March’s ball in was palmed into his own net by Lions goalkeeper David Martin.
The two sides could not be separated in extra-time even if Brighton – with the personnel on the pitch better suited to attacking – looked most likely to settle it in that period.
Instead it went to penalties, and there was the perfect start as Glenn Murray hit the crossbar with the first kick for Albion.
Shaun Williams, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Ryan Leonard all converted. Mahlon Romeo’s effort was on target but saved by Mat Ryan. Steve Morison’s conversion took the shootout into sudden death.
It was then the story of two centre-backs. Brighton’s Lewis Dunk found the bottom left corner before Jake Cooper’s attempt cleared the bar.
As Brighton’s players began their celebrations, Morison headed straight over to Martin – down on his haunches and head bowed – to pull the stopper to his feet.
What should not be lost in the post-match post-mortem is just how well Millwall played, despite having a number of first-teamers unavailable to them.
And the substitutions made late in the contest to shut up shop – absolutely the correct call – came back to bite them to an extent as they had already taken off Jed Wallace and Lee Gregory, the two players in the matchday 18 who had the ability to get in behind the Brighton backline.
Late goals have been damaging in the Championship for Millwall, and they were unable to see out the vital closing stages without incident.
Martin made one mistake on the afternoon – and it was a hugely telling one. Sadly with goalkeepers, they never tend to be insignificant.