Blackburn Rovers 0 Millwall 1 match report: Michael Appleton faces reality check as Danny Shittu seals Wembley date
Time for Millwall to dust off their favourite banner again. It carries the words, legendary to their fans, which gave them a piece of television history in Only Fools and Horses. “Your dad always said that one day Del Boy would reach the top,” Grandad declares. “Then again, he always said Millwall would win the Cup.”
Wonders never cease. It's been a remarkable relationship between them and the FA Cup, and nine years after Manchester United and Ruud van Nistelrooy destroyed them in the 2004 final at the Millenium Stadium, they will believe that victory in a semi-final against Wigan Athletic is within their gift.
There is even Wembley history between those two sides, who met in the 1999 Auto Windscreens Shield Final which was decided by a goal from Wigan journeyman Paul Rogers, in the days when that club had many such players. It will be silk against steel on the weekend of 13/14 April: Roberto Martinez's elegant passing game against the physical defensive presence of a side subtly inspired by the quiet man, Kenny Jackett, Martinez's predecessor at Swansea City. Wigan will have their work cut out. Millwall have only conceded one goal in this season's FA Cup and Jackett has imbued them with a rare spirit.
The last asset is not in Blackburn's possession. There was no better measure of the diminution of a once fine Premier League club under its Indian ownership than the empty streets an hour before kick-off last night. The stadium, where there are rarely more than 14,000 these days, was barely a quarter full for a game which placed Arsenal's conquerors 90 minutes from Wembley. There were pleas for some noise, in the match programme, but to no real avail. A club which was once a byword for prudence and wise husbandry of limited resources, and where respected chairman John Williams agonised over the best course forward, has been dismantled in the space of two years. Their talisman, David Dunn, left the ground in tears.
It's also been a struggle for Millwall, who have won once in the Championship since New Year's Day, and in the second half last night they barely ventured beyond their own defensive lines. It was not the kind of stuff they advertise on those FA Cup roadside hoardings and hardly in keeping with the delirium of this season's competition, but it was enough to see Millwall home. After the Nigerian defender Danny Shittu had put them ahead, running five yards unchecked to head in Chris Taylor's corner in the six-yard box four minutes before the interval, they showed that they are capable of defending to the hilt. The professionals will tell you that Shittu is one of the most awkward – if basic – defenders you'll come up against. Jack Smith and goalkeeper David Forde were also outstanding
The corner, awarded after Taylor's shot ploughed, undeflected, straight into the side-netting, had seemed questionable. But no-one seemed to have the heart to complain. "There's a fine line between winning and losing. Millwall won – good luck to them," the Blackburn manager, Michael Appleton, said. Neither, in the euphoria of victory, was anyone grumbling that Millwall's Dany N'Guessan had a strong penalty appeal turned down when Scott Dann had both hands hovering around the ball.
Dunn – who deserves to have something named after him having hung around, despite everything, in the town he loves – provided brief sparks of Lancastrian light. And Leon Best almost equalised, running through to fire a shot which Shane Lowry cleared off the line. But it was otherwise a lost cause for Appleton.
"You can feel disappointed and sorry for yourself but only for so long because no-one is going to feel sorry for us," he said last night. "We are where we are. Some of them are not going to get that opportunity again. For two or three seasons now it's been acceptable to lose. That's the hardest thing for me to take. It hurts as much as it could do."
If results go against them, Blackburn could enter the bear pit of the east Lancashire derby with Burnley only three points off the drop zone on Sunday. Millwall are a point below them in the Championship table but now, like Grandad, they will believe that anything is possible.
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2) Kean; Lowe, Dann, Hanley, Markus Olsson (Gomes, 46); King (Forrester, 75), Dunn, Pedersen, Martin Olsson; Best, Rhodes. Substitutes not used Sandomierski (gk), Givet, Rekik, Goodwillie, O’Sullivan.
Millwall (4-2-3-1): Forde; Dunne, Shittu, Beevers, Lowry; Smith, Taylor; Keogh, Trotter, N’Guessan (Abdou, 66); Hulse (Marquis, 85). Substitutes not used Taylor (gk),Tyson, Smith, Osborne, Saville.
Referee M Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).
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