Gianfranco Zola described it was “very hard to take” for Watford at The Den, as his side somehow failed to capitalise on Hull City's 1-0 loss at Wolves, going down by the same score-line to Millwall.
Watford had far more chances, possession, quality on the pitch and on the bench but the game was settled by Millwall substitute Shaun Batt seven minutes from time, bundling in at the near post from Martyn Woolford's header back across goal.
Up to that point it had been all Watford, a game which looked like one between a team hoping to escape from the Championship and another fighting to stay in it. With their far more enterprising system and players, Watford were superior but could not match their imaginative approach play with the efficiency required to win.
“It was very hard to take,” sighed Zola afterwards. “We paid very costly for the fact we were not as precise and clinical as we normally are. Our finishing was very poor and that was the difference, we created enough chances to win two games.”
Troy Deeney could have scored four. At the start of the first half he spun and shot over before outmuscling Adam Smith and shooting at David Forde's legs from close range. At the start of the second half he met Daniel Pudil's cross at the near post but had his first shot saved and his follow-up blocked by Jimmy Abdou. Ikechi Anya and Matej Vydra went close from distance and Watford spent nearly the whole game with the ball in Millwall's half.
Watford might have had penalties for a first-half push on Deeney and a second-half handball by Danny Shittu. “I don't understand what we have to do to get a penalty when we play,” said Zola, “it is not the first time it has happened.”
The lowlight, probably, was with 10 minutes left when an offside Alexandre Geijo stole the ball from an onside Mateij Vydra who was through on goal. Millwall went straight down the other end and scored, Almunia palming James Henry's shot into Woolford's path.
It was an implausible outcome given how Millwall spent so much of the evening on the back foot. The usual atmosphere took an hour to develop, and there was an early feeling that the crowd had almost been shamed by the events of three days before. The usual tension and noise seemed to have been lanced, and the 1,500 Watford fans were far louder.
Millwall, while being starved of the ball, did create isolated chances. Andy Keogh headed at Manuel Almunia from Henry's clever set-up in the first half. Late in the second half, before their goal, another cross from the impressive Henry found Woolford, who headed wide.
But Woolford's next intervention was successful, Millwall won and climbed up to 16th in the table. “You can't underestimate the three points, they're massive,” said assistant manager Joe Gallen. “It's a huge relief.”
For Zola, though, there was only regret, as his side stayed six points behind Hull with just three games left. He was asked if Watford were now heading for the play-offs. “It looks like it,” he admitted.
Millwall (4-2-3-1): Forde; A Smith, Shittu, Beevers, Lowry; J Smith, Abdou; Henry, Keogh, C Taylor (Woolford, 36); Easter (Batt, 63). Substitutes not used M Taylor, Dunne, Osborne, Wright, Hulse
Watford (3-5-2): Almunia; Doyley, Ekstrand, Briggs; Anya, Yeates (Forestieri, 79), Chalobah, Battocchio, Pudil (Abdi, 79); Vydra, Deeney (Geijo, 70). Substitutes not used Bond, Thompson, Hogg, Murray
Referee J Linington (Isle of Wight)