Achterberg's save keeps Tranmere alive

Millwall 0 Tranmere Rovers 0
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The Independent Online

Eight years ago, Brian Little proved his prowess in knock-out competitions by winning the League Cup. While that victory with Aston Villa remains the high-water mark in his career, the man who is now Tranmere Rovers' manager showed he has not lost his touch as he engineered this result for the Second Division club, meaning that both clubs will be in today's draw for the semi-finals.

The question "When is the replay?" started to appear on people's lips as soon as the half-time whistle went but if that was part in jest, it figured in earnest after the 76th minute. That was when the Rovers' goalkeeper, John Achterberg, rounded off an inspired afternoon by saving a penalty from Kevin Muscat.

The spot kick was awarded, fairly in Little's eyes, after a push by Ryan Taylor on Tim Cahill and although Achterberg dived to his right, Muscat's effort was underhit and he stuck out a hand to deflect it over the crossbar.

Afterwards, Little paid tribute to the Dutchman, who has been at Rovers for more than five years and who took a painkilling injection in his knee to play in this game. "He's an unbelievably dedicated character, first in to training. This man-of-the-match performance is great reward for him," Little said. "He just wanted to play today. It was a great save and that gave us belief.

"It's a fantastic feeling to see our name in the Cup draw. We've had a laugh about that and joked about getting into Europe as well," Little added.

That joke might take on a more serious hue if they get past Millwall in the replay at Prenton Park in eight days' time, although Little still claimed the First Division club would be favourites to get through to what would be the Londoners' first semi-final since 1937. Tranmere, for whom this was their third quarter-final in five years - a record bettered only by Arsenal in recent years - have never reached the last four of the FA Cup.

Achterberg's penalty save was not his only vital interception as, predictably, Millwall went for their guests' throats from the very start. On at least six other occasions the Tranmere goalkeeper punched, parried or held efforts that were goalbound.

The first came after 16 minutes when he kept out a Dennis Wise free-kick. The Lions' player-manager was brave to play on throughout the game, having received a deep stud mark on his knee 10 minutes earlier. As his assistant, Ray Wilkins, said: "He never complains when he gets one. He could barely walk but was never going to come off."

Achterberg said: "I was struggling a bit before the match. I said to the gaffer, 'I'm afraid I've done some bad damage', and the gaffer said, 'Stay off then', but you can always play with a bit of pain. You don't want to miss out on a big game like this."

Wilkins revealed that Wise was "disgusted with himself", for not taking the penalty, although he praised Muscat for having the courage to try his luck from 12 yards.

Achterberg was not alone in keeping Millwall at bay, as his central defenders put in towering performances and Rovers' defensive display as a whole belied the fact that they are in 16th place in their division, some 33 League places below their hosts.

But, as Little said, "There is a buzz around the place when we're in the Cup", and Achterberg made sure that will remain until next week. With 36 minutes gone, he produced a brilliant reaction save after Cahill had tried his luck with a powerful header, and he was on the spot again after 72 minutes in an identical situation.

Millwall began to lose their shape in the second half, "doing things we don't normally do", Wilkins said, but Rovers, bar two long-range efforts from Gareth Roberts, were never a threat in themselves. The prospect of making club history next week should change all that.

Millwall (4-4-2): Marshall; Ryan (Sweeney, 80), Lawrence, Ward, Muscat; Livermore, Wise, Cahill, Ifill; Harris (Braniff, 60), Dichio; Substitutes not used: Gueret (gk), Roberts, McCammon.

Tranmere Rovers (3-4-1-2): Achterberg; Connelly, Goodison, Jones; Roberts, Mellon, Harrison, Taylor; Beresford (Nicholson, 90); Dadi, Hume; Substitutes not used: Howarth (gk), Linwood, Navarro, Loran.

Referee: N Barry (Lincs).

Bookings: Tranmere: Dadi.

Man of the match: Achterberg.

Attendance: 16,404.

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