MILLWALL secured a play-off place on the last day of the season after an extraordinary game at The Memorial Stadium.
Shaun Hutchinson headed an 85th-minute winner for Millwall, who had earlier blown a two-goal lead.
Lee Gregory put Millwall ahead in the sixth minute after Shaun Williams had flicked on Shane Ferguson’s corner.
It was a similar routine 25 minutes in, and this time it was Tony Craig who was left completely free at the back post to tap home after Steve Morison had helped on another Ferguson corner.
Jermaine Easter pulled a goal back for Bristol Rovers before Gregory got his second to put Millwall 3-1 up after 35 minutes.
It was 3-2 three minutes before half-time as Chris Lines beat Jordan Archer with a wicked shot from outside the box.
Ellis Harrison headed wide at the back post with just over 20 minutes left, as Millwall were forced to defend on the edge of their own box with the home side dominating.
And Rovers got their equaliser when Billy Bodin scored from a direct free-kick in the 74th minute.
Millwall knew they had to win to reach the play-offs, and it was from another Ferguson corner that they re-took the lead, Hutchinson flicking a brilliant header into the far corner with five minutes left.
Lions boss Neil Harris brought on Jake Cooper and switched to five at the back to defend the lead. They managed it, and will now play Scunthorpe next Thursday.
Harris had gone for experience for Millwall’s highest pressure game in almost a year.
Jimmy Abdou started for the first time since February 11, and Shaun Cummings came in for Mahlon Romeo at right-back. Both had first-half chances, but Abdou headed over David Worrall’s cross and then Cummings’ shot came off the legs of goalkeeper Joe Lumley.
With Jed Wallace ill Worrall was on the right of Millwall’s midfield, with Ferguson on the left. The fifth change from last week’s loss to Oxford was Hutchinson, who returned to the centre of defence with Cooper on the bench.
It was at the other end of the pitch where all the early action happened, and Millwall were two goals up inside 25 minutes. They were carbon-copy goals, both Ferguson deliveries and Gregory and Craig seemed to have eased the pressure on the away side, who needed three points to secure sixth place.
It was Craig’s first goal in 18 months, after he had earlier made an impression when he thundered into Daniel Leadbitter and was booked.
Millwall were coasting at 2-0 ahead. Rovers’ defence looked ragged, and Morison was putting centre-back Jake Clarke-Salter through his own personal ordeal.
Yet Darrell Clarke’s side have pace and footballers with good technical ability. There was an element of luck for their first goal, however, the ball rebounding perfectly for Easter to score against his former club after Bodin’s deflected shot hit the post.
Moments later Morison ran past Clarke-Salter on the right, and Gregory’s movement was clever as he stole in at the back post to put his side two goals up again with his 17th of the season.
That wasn’t the end of the goal rush. Millwall perhaps could have done more to dispossess Bodin before he set up Lines. There was little goalkeeper Archer could have done to keep out the midfielder’s shot.
With Southend winning at home to Bury, Millwall knew they couldn’t slip up.
Craig had to produce a sensational piece of defending at the start of the second half to keep his side ahead. It was a cross from the left and Easter was behind Craig waiting to apply the finish, but the Millwall captain stretched to nick the ball away from the striker from close to his own line.
Worryingly, Millwall were sitting deeper, and the strong wind was certainly a factor. Archer’s goal-kicks were barely reaching halfway; Lumely didn’t need much power to land his on Millwall’s defensive 18-yard line.
Millwall were struggling to get out of their own half and were conceding a number of free-kicks and corners. There didn’t seem to be much contact when Williams was penalised for fouling Byron Moore, and Rovers’ best player, Bodin, beat Archer from 25 yards.
Millwall were down but not yet out, and Hutchinson showed how timely his return was by making it 4-3.
Rovers goalkeeper Lumley went forward to contest a free-kick deep into injury-time, but Millwall hung on to extend their season by at least a week as they chase promotion to the Championship.
Image: Millwall FC