When the FA Cup is good, it’s very good – Millwall have one of those special Den nights as Everton latest Premier League heavyweight to be floored

MILLWALL 3
Gregory 45+2 Cooper 75 M Wallace 90+4
EVERTON 2
Richarlison 43 Tosun 72
BY RICHARD CAWLEY AT THE DEN

Now this is what the FA Cup is all about.

The fabled competition has got its detractors and critics, who question its place and importance in the modern-day game.

But when the FA Cup is good, it’s very good. And sometimes, it is absolutely brilliant. That was the case on a rocking and memorable Saturday night at The Den.

We had the unlikely hero in Murray Wallace. The Scottish defender sweeping home a winner with almost the last kick of the tie.

Everton’s Yerry Mina (left) and Millwall’s Aiden O’Brien (right) battle for the ball during the FA Cup fourth round match at The Den, London.

There was the controversy of Jake Cooper’s goal to make it 2-2 – with TV replays showing that the big centre-back had used his left arm to force the ball over the line from about six yards out.

Then came Lions boss Neil Harris shouting up into the Barry Kitchener Stand for the Den’s big screen to stop replaying the incident – before referee Michael Oliver realised he had made a wrong call. If VAR had been in operation – as it has in a number of matches this round – then the equaliser would have been struck off.

Millwall’s Murray Wallace (right) and Everton’s Michael Keane (left).

Jed Wallace and Ben Marshall, out with a groin strain and ineligibility respectively, danced and sang along to Status Quo’s Rockin’ All Over The World as the home stands partied at the full-time whistle.

Yep, it was a whole lot of fun.

The last time that Millwall had come back twice to win in the FA Cup was against Cambridge United in January 2003.

Crucially they were never trailing for long against Everton.

Richarlison looked to have given the Toffees a half-time lead as his long-range shot skidded under the body of Jordan Archer. It won’t be a moment that the Lions stopper looks back on with any fondness. Even though the ball skidded up just in front of him, it should not have squirted under his body.

But Lee Gregory produced a terrific header to make it 1-1 in the second minute of stoppage time. The striker still had plenty to do as Jake Cooper guided on Shaun Williams’ free-kick, Gregory looping over a marooned Jordan Pickford to move into double figures for goals this season.

Everton’s Seamus Coleman (left) and Millwall’s Ryan Leonard (right).

The foul had actually occurred just inside the Millwall half but Williams shifted the ball forward a good eight yards.

Everton’s forward play was unimpressive but they went back in front when substitute Cenk Tosun finished across Archer, Gylfi Sigurdsson producing his only defence-splitting pass of the contest.

But again Millwall found a response within a matter of minutes.

With the visitors being so uncomfortable from balls into the box, they committed the cardinal sin of conceding free-kicks that allowed the Lions’ big men to rumble forwards.

It was Lucas Digne who twice gave away cheap fouls – on Mahlon Romeo and Steve Morison – which led to the final two goals.

Millwall not only enjoyed first contacts in the box but also the second touches too. All three of their goals saw them react quicker as the ball dropped in the penalty area.

Everton boss Marco Silva had every right to bemoan the on-off use of VAR. But his side’s inability to handle the powerful and physical hosts from those dead-ball moments means there are absolutely no guarantees the final outcome would not have been the same.

Wallace was a fitting match-winner. It looked as if he could have his hands full against Ademola Lookman – especially with left-back not being his preferred position – but he had few nervy moments against the former Charlton Athletic winger.

Millwall’s Murray Wallace (centre) scores the winning goal of the match

In fact, Lookman’s subdued showing pretty much typified Everton’s display in SE16. They were not short of big names, but they were short of big performances.

Millwall clearly fancied the challenge. Ryan Tunnicliffe and Ryan Leonard both won their fair share of tackles, while Gregory played the lone striker role with aplomb. If he does end up leaving this summer – when his contract expires – the number nine will be a huge miss.

Harris was hoping to be drawn at The Den in last night’s draw – and you can see why. The Lions are unbeaten in their last nine home FA Cup ties, winning eight of them and scoring 22 goals in the process.

They have won their last five home FA Cup ties against Premier League opposition. Leicester, Watford and Bournemouth were all knocked out in their run to the last eight of the tournament in 2017.

Millwall banked £180,000 in prize money for their victory on Saturday – with that figure doubling if they can book a quarter-final spot. That’s before you add in the extra cash from TV coverage.

Harris had his options depleted for the Everton clash, with Ben Thompson and Fred Onyedinma both cup-tied after featuring for Portsmouth and Wycombe while they were out on loan. When you added in the absence of Jed Wallace, Marshall and the two Toms – Bradshaw and Elliott – it was a significant cut in numbers.

It meant there were bench spots for two teenagers. George Alexander – the son of former Lions frontman Gary – and Jethro Hanson gained invaluable insight into a big-match build-up.

That is what made the weekend’s win all the more impressive. At least four regular starters were out, and Millwall found a way to prevail.

Millwall (4-3-3): Archer 6, Romeo 7, Hutchinson 8, Cooper 8, M Wallace 9, Tunnicliffe 8, Leonard 8, Williams 7, O’Brien 7 (Skalak 87), Ferguson 7 (Morison 89), Gregory 8 (Pearce 90+6). Not used: Martin, Meredith, Hanson, Alexander