Two goals in extra-time finally broke brave Millwall's resistence as Kenny Jackett's side bowed out of the Carling Cup against West Ham United.
But Jackett's bravehearts could walk away from Upton Park with their heads held high after coming just three agonising minutes away from recording one of the upsets of the competition on a night of high drama.
Not many outside of The Den had really given Jackett's side a realistic chance of out-gunning their Premier League opponents before Tuesday night's game. The manner in which a virtual second-string Sunderland side had wiped the floor with Norwich just 24 hours earlier added further weight to the expectancy that this would be a stroll for Zola's men.
Considering that The Lions were also missing defensive lynch-pin Tony Craig, who was forced out through injury, and the odds against Jackett's side pulling off a Cup upset looked even longer.
To all intents and purposes, this Millwall side were, by many, expected to be beaten before they had even kicked a ball.
When Andy Frampton was booked with just five minutes on the clock for what could best decsribed as a 'soft' tackle on Carlton Cole, the omens didn't look good with the stand-in Lions captain facing a further 85 minutes walking on tenterhooks.
In fact it was the home side who were, for long spells of the 90 minutes, out-fought and out-thought in their own back yard - something that didn't go down at all well with sections of the Upton Park faithful.
But for Junior Stanislas' 87th-minute equaliser, cancelling out Neil Harris' 25th-minute opener for Millwall, it would have been Jackett's team looking forward to a possibly lucrative Carling Cup third round tie.
The Lions certainly settled into their collective stride from the opening whistle.
Chris Hackett's deep free-kick from the right flashed across the face of goal on 15 minutes before taking a deflection for the first of three Millwall corners in the opening half.
Harris then sent a header from Dave Martin's dinked delivery straight into the arms of home keeper Robert Green as The Lions continued to prise and probe a way to open up the Hammers defence.
Chopper hit a bobbler a couple of yards wide from Alexander's flick-on after 23 minutes, but the deadlock was finally broken just three minutes later.
There seemed minimal danger when Scott Barron lobbed a long throw in from the left, Danny Gabbidon misjudged the ball under pressure from Gary Alexander and it fell to Harris, who showed a classic predator's instinct with a right-foot finish from close range.
Millwall could have gone 2-0 ahead on the half-mark when Alan Dunne set off on a rampaging run down the right, played a neat one-two with Harris on the edge of the area but then got his feet in a tangle and couldn't finish off a fantastic move.
West Ham were surprisingly lethargic during the opening 45 minutes, and other than a Scott Parker piledrive that flew over the bar, offered little as an attacking threat.
That deficiency was clearly noted by boss Zola, who introduced livewire striker Zavon Hines at the start of the second-half.
The Hammers threatened Millwall's goal more in the opening 120 seconds after the restart than they had the entire opening 45 minutes, forcing keeper Forde into a smart stop from Carlton Cole and then rattling the woodwork.
Although the home side enjoyed the majority of possession thereafter, it was Millwall who looked more likely to hit the target again with both Marc Laird and Harris drilling wide from distance.
Martin drove forward on a purposeful 76th-minute run, but then unfortunately drove wide of the target too with just Green standing between him and goal glory.
Hackett produced a left-foot curler that was tipped over by the home keeper as Millwall continued to pressure, but then, with just three minutes remaining, Stanislas grabbed an equaliser, sweeping home Julien Faubert's cross.
The goal sparked a pitch invasion from a handful of home fans and an additional six minutes of injury-time, during which both teams seemed to accept extra-time as inevitable.
That man Stanislas slammed home his - and West Ham's second - in the 98th-minute after Frampton was rather harshly penalised for handball when he was on the ground at the time and the ball appeared to be driven straight at him.
Unfortunately Stanislas' spot-kick conversion resulted in another pitch invasion, prompting yet another delay and Millwall's players to walk off until order had finally been restored.
On came Adam Bolder and Ashley Grimes for Harris and Alexander, but the subs had barely time to take up their positions than Hammers sub Zavon Hines stole in to add a third, killer goal from close-range and put the tie beyond reach.
Credit to The Lions though, who kept their heads and could have reduced the arrears when Hackett, Laird and Bolder all saw efforts fly over the bar from distance.
But it was West Ham, so close to going out of the competition, who find themselves in the draw for Round Three whilst Millwall have to pick their weary bodies up, put on a brave face, not dwell on what might have been and focus on getting three points from the visit of Brighton on Friday night.
West Ham United: Green, Tomkins, Kovac (Nouble, 62mins), Parker, Gabbidon, Spector, Faubert, Collison, Payne (Hines, 46mins), Stanislas, Cole (Upson, 108mins). Subs not used: Kurucz, Collins, Daprela, Lee.
Bookings: Gabbidon (16mins), Parker (68mins), Cole (82mins), Collison (115mins)
Scorer: Stanislas (87mins, 98mins (pen)), Hines (100mins)
Millwall: Forde, Dunne, Barron, Fuseini, Frampton, Smith, Martin (Price, 90mins), Laird, Harris (Grimes, 99mins), Alexander (Bolder, 99mins), Hackett. Sub not used: Sullivan.
Bookings: Frampton (5mins), Laird (39mins), Barron (105mins)
Scorer: Harris (25mins)
Ref: Paul Taylor