By the time the final whistle blew on a tumultuous match last night, the home fans had been warned for pelting the linesman with objects that turned out, mercifully, to be two plastic bottles and half a meat pie, and both managers had been consigned to the stands by the referee for overly vociferous comments. The match itself, between two teams challenging strongly for promotion to the Premiership, tipped away from the visitors only after they had had their 64th-minute substitute Curtis Woodhouse dismissed following a shuddering collision with Millwall's Matt Lawrence within three minutes of joining play. All in all, just another night at the New Den.
Millwall's manager, Mark McGhee, has just signed a new two year contract, and his players made it clear from the start that they were eager to mark the occasion by securing a win that would have taken them up to second place. But a goal from Birmingham's Tommy Mooney with virtually the last kick of the first half as he drove home a rebound from his own free-kick stalled Millwall's charge, and they were only able to establish parity after the visitors had been reduced to 10 men. Woodhouse's dismissal was the incident which caused Birmingham's manager Steve Bruce to earn his own marching orders from the dugout. "When you watch the tackle on TV it's nothing, absolutely nothing.''
By the time Bruce took his place in the stand, his counterpart was already there, just a few seats along from him, having by his own admission "lost the plot" when his side conceded in the third minute of first half overtime.
"I had no excuse,'' McGhee said. "The referee was quite right and I'm apologising here.''
McGhee's evening took a dramatic upturn, however, once Woodhouse had made his acrimonious departure. The Millwall manager immediately called on two substitutes, one of whom Christophe Kinet took the free-kick and helped set up the equaliser as the ball was nodded on towards the Birmingham goalkeeper, Ian Bennett but intercepted by Millwall's defender Sean Dyche, who nodded home from six yards.
Until that point it seemed that Millwall, who had strong claims for penalties turned down when David Livermore fell in the area after eight minutes and Steve Claridge was halted and grounded after 62, were destined for a night of frustration.
Millwall's chairman Theo Paphitis said that a culprit had been apprehended for the sixth-minute incident which saw the linesman take temporary refuge in the penalty area. "They will be banned for life and prosecuted," Paphitis said. Referring to Saturday's crowd incidents at Cardiff, he added: "You get copycats don't you? We've got to stamp on this. It might be a meat pie today, but tomorrow..."
Millwall (4-4-2): Warner; Lawrence, Nethercott, Dyche, Ryan; Reid, Bircham (Odunsi, 67), Livermore, Bull (Kinet, 67); Harris, Claridge. Substitutes not used: Gueret (GK), Ward, Braniss.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Bennett; Kenna, Purse, Vickers, Burrows; Eaden, Bak (Woodhouse, 64), O'Connor, Mooney; Horsfield (Johnson, 83), Marcelo (Hughes, 70). Substitutes not used: Vaesen, Gill.
Referee: P Dowd (Stoke).
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