Neil Harris has praised the display of his Millwall side after exiting the Emirates FA Cup at the Quarter-Final stage by Brighton & Hove Albion via a penalty shootout at The Den.
Harris’ men – the last remaining side left in the competition from outside the Premier League – took a 2-0 second-half lead in South London on St. Patrick’s Day through goals from Irish internationals Alex Pearce and Aiden O’Brien, before Jurgen Locadia and Solly March took the game to extra-time.
Chris Hughton’s side then booked the final available Wembley spot in the last four after a 5-4 penalty shootout victory after Shane Ferguson’s late dismissal.
“For 90 minutes, we were the better team,” the boss says.
“Before we scored the two goals, we had two one-on-ones, Brighton had some possession but didn’t really cause us any problems. I thought as a game itself, we got it spot on team-wise. The way they dug in and worked, that’s what we’re good at here at The Den against the top sides and we’re really difficult to play against.
“We were difficult to break down, and we went two goals in front but I never once thought the tie was over. I always knew they were capable of scoring goals at any moment, but admittedly the manner of the goals was disappointing in the 88th minute and the last kick of the game.”
The manager discusses the concession of the two late strikes from Albion, claiming that goalkeeper David Martin “did not deserve” to be the victim of an error for the last-gasp equaliser, and that he will continue to perform very well in a Millwall shirt.
“I’m more disappointed with the first goal, because it was poor defending. The second as we know was an individual error from David – a player who is one of the very best professionals and one of the nicest guys I’ve met in my life, and he didn’t deserve that.
“He’s made a mistake and he’s held his hands up, he’s devastated. Throughout the course of the game, he was outstanding as he will continue to be for us. So I have no problem with that mistake there.
“In extra-time, you have to lift yourself and go again, and I said to the boys that we started with nothing, and we were now 90 minutes further down the line. We dug in and decided to play with the 5-4-1 to get through to penalties, and then it becomes a lottery. The one major disappointment I do have is Shane Ferguson’s red card – it’s not acceptable on a football pitch.”
Harris commends the achievements of his squad this year to continue their Cup pedigree, and says plenty of positives must be taken into a vital final furlong in the Sky Bet Championship survival battle.
“At 2-0, we never looked in any danger. They have quality Premier League players and they were going to have moments and efforts on goal, but at no stage during the 90 minutes did they look like they would really hurt us and break us down.
“We’ve been in situations before at The Den where we’ve controlled games and not been in any problems, and then haven’t come away with the points in the League. The dressing room is disappointed because we’ve not gone through to a Semi-Final, but what I will say is that what we’ve achieved in the Cup this year is fantastic, to beat Hull, Everton and Wimbledon and then to dominate another Premier League side.
“It’s very positive for us, and that spirit and performance, and the ability individually and collectively, we will take into the last nine League games of the season.”
Harris concludes by lauding the characteristics of his Millwall team, and has faith in the side to bounce back.
“The characteristics of the team were outstanding and what I’d expect from the group. You can’t legislate for individual errors, and we showed everybody on Wednesday that we’re together and we’re a team, and we’ll show that again.
“That was a very solid Millwall performance for 120 minutes.”