It was absolutely no consolation to Millwall's large following that their team had been involved in a match of drama, pace, high excitement and seven goals. Conceding twice inside the last ten minutes extended the London club's miserable sequence of failing to beat Gillingham which stretches back five years. And the victory, which seemed certain after a brace of goals by the Belgian international, Bob Peeters, would have sent Millwall to the top of the First Division.
All credit to Gillingham for their grit and determination which inflicted the first defeat of the season on opponents who were the cleverer side for long spells and who were refreshingly committed to attack from the outset. But, fatally, Millwall could not close down Marlon King. Appropriately kitted out in dazzling silver boots, he lobbed the equaliser in the 81st minute and then slid a marvellous through-ball for the substitute Nyron Nosworthy to win the match two minutes from the end.
Millwall went in front after 11 minutes when a fine pass by their captain, Dennis Wise, found Paul Ifill in space on the right. Ifill closed in at pace and his cross shot found the far wall of the netting. They would have been two up soon afterwards if Wise had not volleyed over from close in.
It had seemed Gillingham's only chance of an equaliser would come from the string of free-kicks conceded by Millwall's uncompromising defenders, but the admirable way they battled back was rewarded by two goals from enterprising open play. First, King crossed from the left and Mamady Sidibe darted forward to head into the gap between the Millwall goalkeeper, Tony Warner and the right-hand post. Then with half-time looming, Andy Roberts's goal-line clearance was not cleared far enough and when the ball was returned into the mêlée, Paul Shaw volleyed in.
Undismayed at having lost the lead, Millwall brought on two strikers, Neil Harris and the loan Frenchman from Juventus, Aboubaka Fofana, early in the second half and took off one, Noel Whelan. But it was the 6ft 5in Peeters who struck what seemed the decisive blows.
Having properly been denied a penalty for an outrageous dive, the Belgian immediately turned past his marker to send a low shot into the far corner of goal. The Millwall fans behind that goal spilled on to the field of play and Peeters' decision to share his celebrations with them earned him a booking.
Nine minutes later, Ifill, not for the first time, diddled John Hills and centred for Peeters to score again. Millwall's win might have been sealed if Harris, latching on to a poor back-header by Nosworthy, had not hit Vince Bartram with his shot.
As it was, the stage was set for Gillingham's rousing rally, with King's silver boots in the thick of it. The Millwall manager, Mark McGhee lamented, "I was disappointed we didn't shut the game down towards the end." But it was never that sort of match.
Sidibe 28, Shaw 43, King 81, Nosworthy 87
Ifill 11, Peeters 61, 69
Half-time 2-1 Attendance: 8,237Reuse content