NEIL Harris revealed after Millwall's epic 4-3 win over Bristol Rovers that clinched a play-off place on the final day of the League One season that illness hit a number of the squad in the 24 hours before the game.
Shaun Hutchinson scored in the 85th minute as the Lions finished sixth in League One to set up a meeting with Scunthorpe in the play-off semi-finals next week.
Jed Wallace and Calum Butcher were missing from the match-day squad, while Harris said Jordan Archer, Jimmy Abdou and Aiden O’Brien were also affected by illness.
Lee Gregory scored two goals before the break as his side went 2-0 and then 3-1 up before Bristol Rovers looked like they had ended Millwall’s season when they got it back to 3-3 with 16 minutes left.
Gregory had been substituted at that stage after he had also picked up a bug before the game.
But Millwall rallied and Hutchinson headed home Shane Ferguson’s corner with five minutes left as the Lions got the three points they needed to finish ahead of Southend, who beat Bury 1-0 and were in the last play-off place before the late drama at The Memorial Stadium.
Hutchinson was also a doubt to start the game.
“First it was a big call to play him,” Harris said. “He hadn’t trained a great deal and still has a fractured rib. He’s taking painkillers to be able to get on the pitch.
“When you need moments of quality and desire, you have Shane Ferguson’s ball under pressure – that’s why he plays international football – and Shaun Hutchinson’s desire to get that winning goal.
“There were a lot of big calls today. There’s a flu bug in the camp. We lost Jed and Calum from the squad today, at nine o’clock this morning.
“Jimmy was sick at half-time, Aiden was sick last night, Jordan was ill last night and this morning. Lee Gregory also had to come off the pitch. He’d scored two goals and wanted a hat-trick but couldn’t physically move.
“That’s team spirit and that’s togetherness. And that wouldn’t have been an excuse had they not got through.
“When you look at individuals in key moments and group mentality, that was brilliant.”
Millwall were cruising when Tony Craig added to Gregory’s opener to make it 2-0 after 25 minutes.
Jermaine Easter pulled a goal back for his side in the 33rd minute before Gregory restored the two-goal lead within two minutes.
Chris Lines made it 3-2 before the break and, against a fierce wind in the second half, Millwall held on until Billy Bodin scored from a direct free-kick in the 74th minute.
After Hutchinson scored Harris brought on Jake Cooper, and the away side held on through six minutes of added time as Bristol Rovers, with goalkeeper Joe Lumley in Millwall’s box at the end, couldn’t get the equaliser that would have dropped their opponents out of the top six.
“I made changes to get some experience in,” Harris said. “The lads have been brilliant, I’ve 20 senior players playing regularly with youngsters coming in and out.
“To have them fit for the play-off campaign is what we want so we’ll have to see how they are after today.
“I picked a team with players who have been in this situation before. We needed calm heads but for 20 minutes of the second half we didn’t play with calm heads. We looked like a nervous team.
“But fair play to my group. We went to four up front at three-all, forced that corner and then went eight at the back for the last five minutes. That’s cup football.
“We showed leadership qualities today.”
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