Millwall fans must need to pinch themselves to remember that they had a team good enough to reach the FA Cup final in 2004. They began this season so immersed in dark farce that Ipswich's mid-week dismissal from the Carling Cup by League One's bottom club, Yeovil Town, seemed like a comparatively minor stumble. After all, Ipswich had already won a couple of Championship matches while Millwall were simply grateful that their own cup win over Bristol Rovers had given the slightest of hints that there might be hope amidst the chaos.
Colin Lee, their latest manager after the 36-day reign of Steve Claridge and the earlier departure of Dennis Wise, accepts it is going to be the "toughest job of my career".
Behind the scenes, the former chairman, Theo Paphitis, who is still a director, is said to remain the major player off the pitch. On it, Lee has admitted there is no longer enough quality to getnear the top of the division and little money to do much about it.
Among other problems, Millwall are short of goalkeepers. They have borrowed Paul Jones from Wolves but yesterday felt some reassurance since Andy Marshall was back after suspension, or that was what they thought until the 13th minute when the Ipswich fans delighted in seeing their former keeper offer them a goal. Marshall cleared directly to Jim Magilton, who knocked the ball forward for Darren Currie to beat the embarrassed goalie.
That was slightly more than Ipswich merited, but they had been playing some modestly attractive football. Basic lack of ball control continuously jeopardised Millwall's chances of recovery. Hardly any of them seemed capable of effective trapping. Lee attempted to enliven his midfield and attack by bringing on Ben May and Marvin Elliott for the second half, soon followed by Don Hutchison. To some extent that had a beneficial effect. Having May wide on the right meant that Ipswich found themselves a shade more stretched, but Richard Naylor was sharp, quick and decisive in the centre of their defence.
When Naylor was eventually unable to create an intervention, May was left a few yards outside the penalty area with a good sight of goal but, on earlier evidence, there seemed little chance of anything spectacular ensuing. Yet May chested the ball down and firedan enormous shot past Lewis Price.
Things went from bad to worse for Ipswich when they were reduced to 10 men in the 76th minute, Naylor being sent off for dragging back Barry Hayles. But they secured the win four minutes later when Currie crossed to Sam Parkin, who outjumped the Millwall defence to score.
"Our basic defending is letting us down," Lee said. "Today it was frightening. Also, we couldn't get accurate balls into their penalty area or even keep possession."