MILLWALL are through to the last 16 of the FA Cup after Steve Morison’s goal with five minutes to go helped them knock Premier League opposition out of the competition for the second successive round.
Morison volleyed home his 14th goal of the season from Shane Ferguson’s cross as Millwall deservedly sealed their place in Monday’s fifth-round draw.
Lee Gregory had missed three good chances for Millwall while Morison also saw a header cleared off the line. The home side largely kept Watford at arm’s length, and Troy Deeney’s header with a minute to go was the Hornets' first on target in the game.
The build-up to the tie was set to be dominated again by uncertainty over the club’s future, but this week’s decision by Lewisham Council to scrap the current CPO process meant there was a different mood outside a buzzing Den before midday.
What hasn’t been uncertain over the last eight games has been what Lions boss Neil Harris sees as his first-choice side. Harris picked an unchanged starting XI from last weekend’s draw at Bradford, Jake Cooper continuing in the centre of the defence with Shaun Hutchinson still out with a calf injury.
As expected and as he did in the last round, Watford manager Walter Mazzarri rested a number of his first-team players with an eye on a Premier League game at Arsenal two days after this fixture. Mazzarri made seven changes to the team that had drawn with AFC Bournemouth.
With Watford playing three at the back Morison immediately exploited the space in wide areas, the home side almost going ahead within a minute when the striker centred for Gregory whose shot hit the crossbar.
Millwall began as they had done against the Cherries and an indication of their attacking intent was illustrated when Tony Craig moved forward from left-back to pick up Morison’s cross, but his shot was deflected and Costel Pantilimon tipped the ball over the bar.
It took Watford some time but they eventually settled with Adlene Guedioura – who scored here when the sides last met – becoming increasingly influential. He was first to press Ben Thompson and Shaun Williams in midfield and when he sent a free-kick arcing into the box in the 25th minute Jordan Archer was relieved to see the ball deflect wide of the far post.
Craig wondered in the programme notes how Watford would handle the atmosphere at The Den but they didn’t seem awed by it and wanted a penalty in the 33rd minute. Jerome Sinclair will claim Williams made contact with his swinging leg to cause him to miss the ball, but replays were inconclusive and referee Martin Atkinson didn’t hesitate in waving play on.
Moments later Millwall wanted a penalty when the ball appeared to strike the arm of Adrian Mariappa after Gregory had pressed Watford’s defence. Goalkeeper Pantilimon pounced on the loose ball but injured himself and after several minutes of treatment he was stretchered off with Heurelho Gomes coming on.
And just before half-time Gomes was showing that agility he has by tipping the ball over the bar after Morison had got his head to Williams’ long pass to set up Gregory for a volley. From the corner Morison, from the position he had put Millwall in front against Bournemouth, this time saw his header cleared away from close to the line by Guedioura.
Just after the break Millwall’s front two combined again but Gregory couldn’t keep his left-footed shot down. At the other end there was yet another penalty claim as Stefano Okaka fell to the ground trying to get to Guedioura’s cross, claiming Byron Webster had obstructed him. Again, Atkinson wasn’t interested.
Fred Onyedinma was beginning to cause Watford problems as first Miguel Britos was booked for a foul on the attacker, before Onyedinma’s cross towards Gregory was just cut out by Younes Kaboul.
Millwall were dealing relatively comfortably with Watford’s attacks but Cooper had to get his tackle right with 16 minutes left to stop Sinclair getting through in the box. The pressure, however, was mostly being applied by the away side, and Williams indicated to Shaun Cummings at one point to take his time with a throw-in.
The Lions needed renewed energy to get the ball up the pitch and Ferguson and Jed Wallace were called on to provide it, coming on for Onyedinma and Aiden O'Brien.
With nine minutes left Brandon Mason was booked for foul on Thompson, and after Ferguson had curled his cross into the box Gomes was at full stretch to keep out Morison’s volley. Minutes later there were more shouts for handball as Ferguson again attempted to find one of his strikers in the area.
But the Northern Ireland international eventually located his target with five minutes left, crossing brilliantly to pick out Morison at the far post and he volleyed home from six yards.
In the 89th minute, after Archer had initially missed his punch, the goalkeeper got back on his line to save substitute Deeney’s header.
Millwall had the ball in the net again through Webster but Atkinson had whistled for a foul, before Deeney then had the chance to level only for Webster to produce a superb tackle to deny the Watford striker.
Image: Millwall FC