Alex Pearce has described Millwall’s display in Sunday’s Emirates FA Cup Quarter-Final tie with Brighton & Hove Albion as “magnificent”, and praises the character shown by his teammates as The Lions suffered late heartbreak against Chris Hughton’s side.
Pearce and fellow Republic of Ireland man Aiden O’Brien gave Neil Harris’ side a 2-0 lead on St. Patrick’s Day at The Den, before late sucker-punches from Jurgen Locadia and Solly March to force extra-time. Shane Ferguson’s dismissal gave The Lions a numerical disadvantage going into the subsequent penalty shootout, which Brighton took by five goals to four.
“I thought we were magnificent,” Pearce claims.
“Right up until the end of extra-time, the lads put it a brilliant effort and we showed our quality at times. We showed what we’re about and played how we like to play – to go 2-0 up was brilliant, but unfortunately we couldn’t see it out.
“We showed character to take the game to penalties, the momentum shifted towards them, but as we can all see I think we can take many positives from the game.”
The defender reflects on breaking the deadlock with 20 minutes remaining in South London, and goes on to discuss how the team looked to keep their spirits high after Brighton’s last-gasp leveller to force the additional 30 minutes.
“It was a great moment for myself to get my first goal for the club. It was good work from Coops [Jake Cooper] in the build-up and a great ball in from Willo [Shaun Williams], and the work on the training ground looked to come off for us. I just did the easy part to finish it, really.
“As I say, we unfortunately couldn’t see the 2-0 lead out, but the manager reiterated to us how far we had come against a Premier League side. He gave us the belief to go on, and told us how when backs are against the wall, good Millwall teams are about coming back stronger.
“We stayed strong and resolute in our shape which was our plan, and we actually could have scored in extra-time through Mahlon [Romeo]’s chance. I was really pleased overall with the performance.”
Pearce says Millwall must now make The Den the most difficult place to come it has ever been, as the final furlong of the Sky Bet Championship campaign approaches.
“If there’s ever a game and a display to give us confidence for the next nine in the League, it’s this one. A Premier League side have come here and found it difficult against us. With the crowd creating an atmosphere like they did today, as players it really gives us an extra lift.
“It’s phenomenal to play in when the supporters are like that, and you can see it affects the team. You can see what it means to them, and it can work as a disadvantage to the visiting side.
“We’ve got nine big games left – five of them here at The Den – so we need to make this place a fortress and really dig in until the end of the season.”
Captaining the side in last Wednesday’s League win at Birmingham City despite having only arrived on loan from Derby County in January, Pearce discusses the midweek performance and claims it will be a huge help towards staying clear of the drop this year.
“Focusing back onto the League, it was vital to go to Birmingham last Wednesday and get the three points.
“It was an honour to captain the side, especially having only been here a short time, and it’s something I’ll always do.
“To score two goals, keep a clean sheet there and get the win can only help us in The Championship.”