MAHLON Romeo’s late goal sent Millwall into the second round of the FA Cup after a 1-0 win over Southend.
Romeo collected a pass from David Worrall in the 88th minute before bursting into the box and beating Mark Oxley with a low drive to the far corner.
Southend almost went in front after a quarter of an hour when Stephen McLaughlin headed Anthony Wordsworth’s corner towards goal, but Ben Thompson cleared the ball off the line at the far post.
Jordan Archer then saved Ryan Leonard’s low drive before Aiden O’Brien was clear only to see his first effort blocked before he curled the rebound wide.
In the 34th minute Simon Cox found space on the edge of Millwall’s box before dragging his low drive well off target.
There were worrying moments three minutes before the break when Steve Morison crumpled to the turf in Southend’s box and had to be stretchered off.
Things got worse for Millwall when in first-half injury-time Ryan Inniss went in late on Ben Thompson. Archer raced from his goal to protest at the ferocity of the challenge and was booked. Inniss was lucky to escape the same penalty.
Six minutes into the second half Shaun Hutchinson had to clear off the line again after Wordsworth fired a low shot towards goal from inside the box.
Leonard, whose long throws were also causing Millwall problems, went close to putting his side ahead but his long-range shot from 30 yards went just wide with Archer beaten.
Millwall substitute Worrall had a glorious chance to break the deadlock in the 77th minute, but Oxley was quickly off his line to make a crucial block.
Eight minutes from time Hutchinson found space in the box to connect with Worrall’s corner but he couldn’t keep his volley down.
But Romeo won it for his side late on with his second goal for the club.
The last time Millwall played an FA Cup match on a Friday night at The Den more than 15,000 also saw a late winner when John Marquis nodded home in the 89th minute to knock Aston Villa out in the third round in January 2013.
There were almost 11,000 fewer fans present for this clash, and most of the noise came from the away end in the first half.
Three minutes before the break the Cold Blow End were singing Morison’s name, but not for the reasons they or anyone at the club would have wanted.
After Inniss, a central character in the opening period, had headed away a cross into the box, Morison stayed down and didn’t move. Lions physio Bobby Bacic immediately called for the stretcher.
Morison had his head in his hands as he was carried off and Millwall fans could be forgiven for doing the same. Morison has nine goals this season and is the crucial component in the attacking game plan. It has to be hoped it’s not a long-term injury.
Just before half-time Inniss illustrated Southend’s growing confidence by striding towards the edge of the Millwall box before being taken down.
Thompson headed Wordsworth’s driven free-kick over before the midfielder was left flattened by Inniss’ late challenge. It certainly seemed referee James Linington was lenient in choosing not to caution the big defender.
With Lee Gregory already on, Neil Harris was forced to make a second substitution at the break, with Calum Butcher coming on for Thompson.
The absence of Morison meant Millwall lacked someone to hold the ball up in attack. Southend were emboldened and often left just Inniss and Adam Thompson back as they poured forward.
After Marc-Antoine Fortune had initially deceived Hutchinson on the right and crossed, the former Fulham defender showed good instincts to get back on the line and clear away Wordsworth’s effort. Minutes later Wordsworth's midfield partner Leonard was clutching his head in his hands after seeing his shot go just wide.
Millwall didn’t threaten Southend’s goal until the 77th minute. It was good play from Fred Onyedinma not to chase a ball over the top of the Shrimpers’ defence when he knew he was in an offside position. Instead he left it for Gregory who found Worrall at the back post but in front of the fans of his former club he took a touch that gave Oxley the chance to save.
Worrall’s introduction had given Millwall a new attacking spark and another option to strike dead balls. He won the corner that he then delivered to the boot of Hutchinson and the defender showed good technique to turn the ball towards Oxley’s goal, but it wasn’t low enough to trouble the goalkeeper. Hutchinson can be happy with his full debut, though, and Tony Craig looked comfortable at left-back.
Just when it looked like a replay would be needed Romeo made that trademark run into the box to finish superbly with the outside of his boot past Oxley.
There was still time for Shaun Williams to miss a one-on-one before Oxley raced from his line to deny Gregory, while Archer was forced into action to keep out Fortune's late effort.
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