From 3-1 up and dreaming of play-offs, Lions were savaged by Rovers to crash 3-4 at home
By Paul Lagan at The Den
Millwall 3 v 4 Blackburn Rovers
They say it’s the hope that kills you and boy, did the hope shatter the souls and hearts of Millwall and their passionate fans as they lost a must-win game 3-4 in a pulsating display by both sides with clinical finishing and Sunday-League defending on display in equal measure.
The South Londoners just needed to win. A dour 1-0 would have sufficed to put them into the Championship play-offs at the expense of chasing Sunderland, Coventry, West Brom and visitors Blackburn.
At 3-1 up it looked as if that hope was going to become a dream.
But seconds started to eat away and the tension racked up. Sadly for the Lions, their defence started to feel as if they were going to be swollowed up by the pitch as an inspirational second half by Rovers winger Ben Brereton Diaz cut them to pieces. He helped himself to a brace which brought the tie level and he tapped home the winner with four minutes left.
But it was also heartbreak for Rovers as they were pipped at the post by Sunderland who secured the coveted sixth-place
It was a very aggressive start by the home side, Tom Bradshaw had a shot on goal closed down by Rovers, while seconds later he was inches away from tucking home from close range after two minutes, but slightly misjudged a long throw-in.
Five minutes later and The Den erupted as the pressure finally told and Duncan Watmore thumped the ball off the crossbar - a Russian linesman would have been needed to say the ball crossed the line, but it was sufficient that referee Craig Pawson judged that it had.
Two minutes later and they thought it was all over, but after Bradshaw tucked the ball home after Zian Flemming hit the post with a free-kick, the linesman this time opted to get involved and adjudged an offside took place.
A powerful header by Flemming went wide as the Lions piled on the pressure.
But with a sporadic attack, Rovers equalised to silence the vocal home side.
Adam Wharton, on the edge of the Millwall penalty area, on the right, produced a fine curling left-footer that George Long failed to get a fingertip to and the ball nestled in the right side-netting to level the score.
That 21st minute goal and how other games were panning out put Millwall outside the top six with fewer goals scored to WBA.
Then while Rovers were carefully building up their play, a quick break on the right by the Lions saw the ball smashed up front. Only Watmore was there for Millwall. It looked a case of goalkeeper Aynsley Pears hacking it clear or defender Harry Pickering a bit of defending - neither did their job, Pickering in particular panicked. This allowed Watmore to steal the ball and ram home from a tight angle to restore the lead.
The fans went crazy and two minutes later went even crazier as Oliver Burke lashed home a wonderful low, right-footer that sizzled past Pears and into the far corner of his net to put the South Londoners 3-1 up.
There was no change from Millwall boss Gary Rowett at half-time.
With the onus on the visitors to strike first, they set about doing just that. Diaz saw his free kick saved by Long, who parried a way the follow-up but could do nothing to prevent Joe Rankin-Costello from slamming home from close range for their second to make it 3-2 after 51 minutes.
This put the wind in the sails of Rovers and their intricate build-up play started to reap dividends. But a wonderful right-footed curler from Diaz from the edge of the box did for Millwall and the game was back to 3-3.
Diaz was producing quality play on the left and he almost made it 4-3 two minutes later on 62 minutes, but his shot rebounded off the post and substitute Thrhys Dolan, with the whole goal in front of him somehow managed to volley wide.
From sixth place, the Lions then dropped into eighth.
Diaz then saw his looping header hacked off the crossbar by substitute Scott Malone, as the visitors exerted their dominance.
Long then snaffled a strong Callum Britain header as the home side’s fans started to get agitated, sensing the play-offs were starting to look like a distant dream.
But as the minutes ticked on, a sense of now or never pervaded, Rovers started to look shaky, space started to open up - in both defences. And then with four minutes left on the clock, a quick break by Rovers saw Diaz once again, free on the far post and he slotted home to bring about a remarkable recovery to make it 3-4.
The soul and energy was punched out of the Millwall players and the fans, who started to exit the stadium in disbelief.
It was all over, another so close season for the Lions.
They will hope for better next season, but as we all know, it’s the hope that kills you.
Millwall, Long, McNamara, Hutchinson, Copper, Burke, Mitchell, Bradshaw, Flemming, Styles, Watmore, Saville
Subs: Bialkowski, Evan, Malone, Burey, Shackleton, Bennett, Bennett, Voglsammer
Blackburn: Pears, Pickering, Hyam, Szmodics, Rankin-Costello, Thomas, Carter, Hedges, Diaz, Travis, Wharton
Subs: Kaminski, Brittian, Ayala, Dolan, Dack, Garrett, Leonard