NEIL Harris said the loss of Byron Webster before kick-off was a factor in their defeat to Barnsley in the League One play-off final, but admitted the Tykes deserved to win the game.
Webster’s name appeared on the team sheet at 2pm as it seemed he had recovered from the hamstring problem he picked up against Bradford in the semi-final.
But Webster left the warm-up routine with club physio Bobby Bacic before departing down the players’ tunnel. Minutes later Harris was shaking hands with Tony Craig who then joined the back four in their preparations with Dave Livermore.
Craig led the side out on his first start for almost seven months, but Millwall went a goal behind in the third minute when Ashley Fletcher shot low past Jordan Archer.
The striker should have doubled the advantage when after some uncertainty in a Millwall defence that was trying to play offside, Fletcher was through one-on-one with Archer. The goalkeeper made the save but was helpless five minutes later when Adam Hammill drifted in from the left to find the top corner from 25 yards.
Millwall pulled a goal back when Mark Beevers fired home after a Shane Ferguson corner had caused panic in the Tykes penalty area.
But with just over a quarter of an hour left Barnsley sealed the win when Lloyd Isgrove headed in Conor Hourihane’s corner.
Millwall also lost Joe Martin to a calf injury before half-time which without the suspended Mahlon Romeo left them with just one first-choice defender in Beevers.
And Harris said the effect of all of that was one defining reason for the defeat.
“I’m not going to be disrespectful to the players who stepped in,” Harris stressed. “We knew Mahlon was going to be missing for a number of weeks now. Losing Byron was a blow because in both boxes he’s outstanding, he’s a real leader.
“But then when you’ve got the opportunity to put your club captain into your line-up does that even it up?
“Did it have an effect subconsciously on the group? Clearly it did. No excuses, Barnsley deserved to win the game. But, subconsciously, yes it probably did affect us.
“We didn’t perform for the 90 minutes. We had spells after going two goals behind where we looked good and looked like we had a goal threat. There was the odd glimmer in the second half as well.
“But over the course of the 90 minutes we gave two poor goals away and obviously their second goal was a brilliant strike by the lad.”
Millwall will now contemplate a second successive campaign in League One after just falling short in their attempts to bounce back to the Championship at the first attempt.
Harris added: “We came today full of hope and expectation and leave with nothing other than pride after a wonderful season until now.”