Brighton come back from the dead to book Wembley spot
Pearce and O’Brien put Millwall 2-0 up before Albion came back and won on penalties
Solly March pulls one back for Brighton. Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Millwall 2 Brighton & Hove Albion 2 (Brighton win 5-4 on penalties)
Brighton & Hove Albion reached their first FA Cup semi-final since 1983 after coming back from the brink to beat Millwall 5-4 on penalties.
Millwall’s devastation was immense. The Championship strugglers had led by two goals with two minutes remaining, only for Brighton to force extra-time thanks to goals from Jurgen Locadia and Solly March.
The equaliser was gutwrenching from Millwall’s perspective, David Martin somehow letting March’s harmless free-kick drift past him in the fourth minuted of added time. Neil Harris’s side could hardly believe their luck and although they managed to force a shootout, their bravery went unrewarded as Jake Cooper blasted the decisive kick over the bar.
The only consolation for Millwall was taking part in one of the games of the season. It was barely possible to hear yourself think as the home fans heckled every loose touch from the visitors, howled at every tight refereeing decision and urged their team to demonstrate their impressive giantkilling credentials. The ear-splitting din acted as a leveller, making the underdogs run faster and tackle harder, and Millwall were quick to test Brighton’s nerve.
No wonder Chris Hughton looked concerned on the touchline for much of the first half. Brighton’s timidity in possession invited pressure and Lee Gregory, Millwall’s selfless lone forward, went close in the 29th minute, hooking on to the roof of the net.
Brighton crept into the contest as the half wore on, Beram Kayal spurning two decent chances, but Millwall began the second half in a frenzy, almost taking the lead in farcical circumstances. Mat Ryan’s clearance hit Shane Duffy and bounced back towards his own goal, but the Australian managed to gather the loose ball before Gregory could force it into the empty net.
Such carelessness only served to encourage Millwall. Kayal threatened from the edge of the area, drawing a good save from Martin with a measured effort, but Brighton were struggling to tame their impertinent opponents. They had nobody to slow the tempo in the middle and their task became even more daunting when the wind started to swirl and hail fell from the darkening clouds.
The conditions were not for the faint-hearted, but they posed no problem for Millwall. The game was just how they wanted it, broken and erratic, and they had chances to break the deadlock, Gregory and Wallace unfortunate to be denied by Ryan after breaking beyond Brighton’s creaking back four.
Hughton replacing Alireza Jahanbakhsh with March, but Millwall broke through in the 70th minute, Alex Pearce charging on to a corner from the left and nutting a brilliant header into the roof of the net. There was no hint of a challenge from anyone in yellow.
Nine minutes later the place went wild when Wallace surged clear on the right and fired a low cross into the six-yard box. Aiden O’Brien showed more desire than any of Brighton’s defenders and turned the ball past Ryan.
Brighton looked done. They had offered nothing for most of the afternoon. Yet it was Hughton’s substitutes who made the difference. Locadia pulled one back with a venomous shot in the 88th minute and the Millwall’s fans howled when the fourth official’s board showed four added minutes.
Time was running out when Brighton won one final free-kick on the right. Ryan ran forward to join his team-mates and he had a good view of a woeful goalkeeping error from Martin, who must have wanted the ground to swallow him whole after allowing March’s overhit delivery to slip through his hands and into the right corner.
Harris turned away in astonishment on the touchline, but Millwall’s manager could not wallow in self-pity. He had to work out how to lift his troops for extra-time and Millwall pushed at first, James Meredith’s fizzing shot drawing an excellent save from Ryan. Mahlon Romeo put the rebound over.
The locals found their voice towards the end of extra-time, raising the volume in an effort to get their exhausted team over the line, but there was still time for Shane Ferguson to earn a red card after kicking Lewis Dunk.
There was enough time left for one for piece of controversy, Locadia’s goal ruled out for a tight offside call against Jose Izqueirdo, and then it was down to whether Martin could redeem himself during the shootout. – Guardian