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NICK SZCZEPANIK'S PRESS VERDICT: MILLWALL

18 March 2019

Paul Hazlewood
Nick Szczepanik reviews the media's coverage of Sunday's game.

FA Cup ties are all about the underdog, so it was understandable that most reports of the dramatic quarter-final at The Den led on Millwall’s misfortune rather than Albion’s endeavours.

Henry Winter in The Times, for example, wrote:

“Sport can be so brutal. Millwall gave everything here, and came away with nothing but pride. They showed such respect for the FA Cup, far more than some clubs, and fought so hard, running themselves into the ground.

“The Championship strugglers were within touching distance of the semi-final when their keeper, David Martin, made a horrendous mistake, palming in Solly March’s innocuous free kick, so gifting Brighton their equaliser. Reprieved, the Premier League side never looked back, eventually winning on penalties and breaking Millwall hearts.

“There had to be sympathy for Martin, one of the most respected professionals in the game, a good servant for a series of clubs, especially MK Dons, and the son of Alvin, the former England international. Martin had played well in only his second appearance of the season, only his sixth game for the club since joining from MK in 2017.

“It was a cruel end to 90 minutes of complete endeavour by Millwall, who played their full part in a compelling cup tie, as did their supporters.

“Every foul by a Brighton player was jeered. Every challenge was contested vicariously by those in the Dockers Stand, Cold Blow Lane end and the Barry Kitchener Stand. Like their supporters, Millwall’s players were certainly in the mood, their work-rate exceptional. Lee Gregory was the sole frontrunner, battling manfully against Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk, and providing the focus of Millwall’s 4-5-1- system.

“Brighton should still have had a penalty when Jake Cooper pulled back Duffy, stopping him reaching the ball at a corner, but Chris Kavanagh did not spot it, and because of the FA’s inconsistency over using VAR, there was no recourse to replays.

“The storm clouds that had been moving in then emptied on the new Den, a downpour of Biblical proportions. The conditions deteriorated rapidly, bringing mistakes, and space opened up. Brighton’s keeper, Mat Ryan, kept Millwall at bay, saving from Jed Wallace, Shaun Williams and Gregory.”

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Adam Crafton took us through the goals in the Daily Mail, the equaliser in great detail. He wrote:

“As the clock ticked down beyond the 80th minute, the chants from the Millwall supporters began. Loud and proud, the Cold Blow End reverberated to the ditty 'Manchester City, we're coming for you'. Then came 'Que sera sera'.

“Two goals ahead against Premier League Brighton, few could dispute their confidence. They had seen Everton mauled at the Den already this season and now it seemed Brighton had been chewed up and spat out by another ferociously committed performance. Neil Harris' side scored twice in a blistering nine-minute spell, first Alex Pearce in the 70th minute and then Aiden O'Brien. Wembley beckoned.

“Then, all of a sudden, the complexion of the contest changed. Solly March, on as a substitute, tricked his way down the wing and laid the ball back to another substitute, Jurgen Locadia, who spun rapidly and blasted into the goal.

“Brighton, for the first time, turned up the heat and resembled a Premier League team.

“Ten seconds remained in the fifth minute of injury-time. A Brighton free-kick, midway inside the Millwall half but over to the right. Solly Marsh curled it in, in-swinging.

“At first, it seemed overhit and a terrible waste. Sailing into the goalkeeper's grasp.

“And then it happened.

“Only David Martin will know how he allowed the ball to squirm through his grasp and nestle into the top corner. Martin placed his gloves over his face.

“Every one of his team-mates put their hands on their heads. Some sank to their knees and onto the turf.

“At the full-time whistle, as the players trudged over to the dugout, Harris searched out his goalkeeper and patted his head. A few words of comfort. But, really, what could he say? This was a Sunday League blooper in an FA Cup quarter-final.

“Martin knew. The whole stadium knew. Millions watching on terrestrial television knew.”

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Jacob Steinberg highlighted Albion’s strong finish, which could have included a goal in extra time, in The Guardian.

“Brighton’s substitutes made a huge impact,” he wrote. “Jürgen Locadia pulled one back with a venomous shot in the 88th minute and the crowd howled when the fourth official’s board showed four added minutes. With good reason, as it turned out.

“I feel for Dave Martin because he was excellent throughout,” Harris said. “He made a slight error of judgement and cost us. He’s obviously devastated. He said he’s let the boys down. He hasn’t let the boys down.”

“Brighton dominated after March’s goal and were aggrieved when Locadia had a winner ruled out for an incorrect offside call against Martín Montoya moments after Ferguson’s red card. Hughton pointed out that VAR, which was not in use here, probably would have ruled out Millwall’s opener, awarded Brighton a penalty in the first half and corrected the decision to chalk off Locadia’s second strike.’

 

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Millwall fan and former Albion programme columnist Paul Jiggins focused on the reaction in the stands – which, it must be said, mirrored his own in the press box.

“It was the turn of the 2,300 travelling fans to celebrate as Millwall stars and fans were left stunned,” he wrote.

“Not as disappointed as those Albion supporters seen heading for the exit with their team 2-0 down.

“When ref Chris Kavanagh blew the full-time whistle to signal extra-time just seconds later you sensed the Lions’ dream had died.

“Especially as their manager Neil Harris had taken off his three of his key players - O’Brien, Wallace and Gregory - in the last five minutes in an attempt to run down the clock.

“With a shell-shocked home crowd stunned to silence Brighton by rights should have put the match to bed in an extra-time, but did not.

“And Millwall’s misery was compounded when Ferguson was shown a straight red for kicking out at Dunk.”

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An excellent freelance writer whose name escapes me wondered in The Independent whether there was special significance in the result.

“Every club that wins the FA Cup can point to a game, perhaps a moment, when they could have gone out of the competition. If Brighton end up hoisting the trophy, this was the game and there was more than one moment.

“They were seconds from elimination when substitute Solly March’s free kick deceived Millwall goalkeeper David Martin to send the match into extra time. And when top scorer Glenn Murray hit the crossbar with the first kick in the penalty shoot-out, they looked on the way out again.

“But Maty Ryan saved Millwall’s fourth kick, taken by Mahlon Romeo, and in sudden death Millwall defender Jake Cooper blasted the ball high into the Brighton end to send the Seagulls into the semi-finals for only the second time in their history.

“It was hard on Millwall, who had led 2-0 with two minutes left and finished the game with ten men after the late dismissal of Shane Ferguson as fatigue and frustration took hold.

“They went into this match having won their previous five FA Cup home matches against Premier League clubs and Brighton, 25 league places above the London side, could have had few complaints if they had been added to the list that includes Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Watford, Leicester and Everton, who succumbed here in this season’s fourth round.”

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Neil McLeman of The Mirror looked back to 1983.

“Chris Hughton admitted he feared Brighton were out of the FA Cup before twice coming back from the dead to reach the semi-finals in heart-stopping style.

“But the Albion boss insisted his Premier League side deserved their late luck as he called for VAR to be used in all cup games.

“After a ‘proper cup tie’ which came within seconds of producing a giant-killing, Brighton eventually reached their first FA Cup semi-final since the days of Jimmys Melia and Case when Millwall's Jake Cooper scooped the final penalty over the bar.

“Maybe their name is finally on the old trophy after all these years."

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Matt Law was also searching for signs in the Daily Telegraph as he discussed the semi-final draw. He wrote:

“If Brighton are looking for a good FA Cup omen, then they may at least draw some comfort from the fact they beat Manchester City 4-0 on the way to the 1983 final.

“Their last semi-final appearance came in the same year and Chris Hughton’s men will have to knock out City again if they are to reach the final for only the second time in their history.

“But, for now, they are just relieved to be in the last four after coming back from the dead to knock-out professional giant-killers Millwall.

“Goals from Alex Pearce and Aiden O’Brien had put Millwall on course for victory in normal time, but Brighton substitutes Jurgen Locadia and Solly March shocked the noisy home crowd by levelling the tie late on.

“When a last-gasp extra-time goal from Locadia was incorrectly ruled out and Glenn Murray hit the bar with the first penalty of the shootout, everything started to point to yet another Millwall shock.

“But Brighton refused to become the sixth Premier League club to be dumped out of the competition at the Den and goalkeeper Mat Ryan saved from Mahlon Romeo before Jake Cooper missed the 12th penalty of the shootout to send Hughton’s men through.

“Having witnessed one miracle of sorts on Sunday afternoon, Hughton is not discounting another against City in the semi-finals.

“’Of course we can upset the odds,’ said Hughton. ‘We are delighted and chuffed to get through. The three of us would have all wanted to avoid Man City, one of the best teams in the world. But, as showed today and yesterday, you can always go close.

“’At 2-0 down, you’re out of the competition. I felt we could get one back but to get two back shows great character. Then missing the first penalty also shows great character and composure from a group of players who desperately wanted to go through.

“’For where this club has come and the level we are at, it means everything to get into the semi-finals. It’s very difficult to get to this stage, so it will not come around too often. When it does, you have to big-up the occasion as much as possible and try to enjoy it’.”


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