MILLWALL boss Neil Harris promised his players at half-time “one moment of quality” would be enough to edge a tight and tense FA Cup first-round clash with Southend.
Harris saw Steve Morison and Ben Thompson go off with injuries they sustained in the first half and Millwall had to withstand mounting pressure from Southend after the break before Mahlon Romeo fired home a spectacular 88th-minute winner.
Jordan Archer was forced into a last-gasp save to keep out Marc-Antoine Fortune’s effort as Millwall held on to book their place in the next round.
“It wasn’t ever going to be pretty,” Harris admitted. “I thought we had moments of good play in the first half, Southend had moments of good play in the second.
“I said to the boys at half-time there would be one moment of quality that would define the game. When that moment comes, whoever it’s going to be, make sure you grasp it. Because that’s cup football, and Mahlon certainly did that.
“And I was probably wrong, there were two moments. Jordan Archer’s save in injury-time was quality as well.
“I’m really pleased. By no means did I think we were particularly very good in the second half, we didn’t use the ball wisely at all and certainly spent some time under pressure.
“But I’m delighted my team stood firm and kept a clean sheet. And the most important thing I said to the boys is we’re through to the next round.”
Shaun Williams had missed a chance to make the game safe before Archer’s save when he lifted the ball over Mark Oxley only to see it go wide after finding himself through one-one-one with the goalkeeper.
But Harris said the midfielder was “outstanding” for his side.
“If I wanted anyone to go clean through I’d pick Lee Gregory, but Shaun Williams would be right near the top of the list because he’s such a good finisher,” Harris said.
“He practises like you wouldn’t believe and he was composed, but I just put it down to tired legs. I think he’ll kick himself when he gets home and gets up in the morning and thinks it was a good opportunity for him to extend his goal record.
“But I think we can let Shaun Williams off, I thought he was outstanding tonight, defensively as much as with the football.
“For me it follows what was probably his best performance in a Millwall shirt at Oxford on Saturday.”
Millwall were under pressure for much of the second half against Southend, but with Shaun Hutchinson completing his first 90 minutes for the club the Lions kept a first clean sheet in 12 games.
“I’m pleased for Hutch because he came in in the summer to find a new home, to settle with his wife and young family,” Harris said. “He had a horrendous start injury-wise, so to get back on the pitch and play and keep a clean sheet, I’m really pleased for him.
“He’d be the first to say there was some rustiness, but he showed his quality tonight as a man with his leadership, aggression and a wholehearted display.
“I’m delighted not just for the players in the back four and the goalkeeper that played but the other lads as well. Joe Martin, Shaun Cummings, Sid (Nelson), they’ve been working hard the last couple of months to get better as a unit and individually.
“Hopefully that’s the first clean sheet of many more to come.”
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