In the end, it was no surprise that a club whose back is permanently against the wall did things the hard way at Wembley.
At the end of a fraught season off the pitch – compulsory purchase orders, fan protests and the rest – Millwall dug in and got their rewards again at Wembley, grinding out a victory that they scarcely deserved to banish the ghosts of last season's play-off misery.
The Lions came up short at the final hurdle last term and rode their luck against a talented Bradford side, eventually finding a winner in the dying stages when talismanic striker Steve Morison popped up – possibly in an offside position – to take them back to the Championship.
"I'm a happy manager today," said manager Neil Harris, for whom the phrase 'club legend' is starting to look a touch stingy. "I'm delighted about the character my squad has shown – not just today but all season.
"To bounce back from the play-off final defeat here shows the enormous spirit, camaraderie and desire we've got in camp. This season, when we've needed a performance, our players have been able to produce it."
Style can take a back seat on these occasions and the football in the opening stages here was certainly on the functional side. As the teams sized each other up, the ball spent so much time in the sky that it was tempting to wonder whether it knew about Air Miles.
The aerial approach clearly suited Millwall better. Midfielder Shaun Williams peppered the Bradford box with a series of devilish dead balls, leading to half chances for Shaun Hutchinson and Morison. The Bantams weathered the storm but McCall, who had spent the pre-match formalities geeing up the Bradford end, would have been forgiven for getting well acquainted with his fingernails.
Slowly, Bradford settled and it was from a Millwall corner that they carved out the best chance of the first half. After Williams was robbed, Josh Cullen fed the wriggly Mark Marshall, who looked up and threaded a pass through to Billy Clarke. The 29-year-old's eyes lit up, but Jordan Archer showed feline reflexes to claw his shot away. "That save was top drawer," said a drained McCall. "We should have come in ahead."
The Bantams continued to press on, wing-backs James Meredith and Tony McMahon both enjoying the freedom afforded to them by McCall's system. The former saw a snapshot saved after some neat passing before McMahon staged his own mini-siege of the Millwall goal with three shots in ten minutes. Unfortunately for him, none troubled Archer.
This absorbing clash of styles – Bradford intricate if a touch lightweight, Millwall steely and more direct – continued into the second half. Although ironically the next brace of gilt-edged chances went completely against the grain: Bantams defender Rory McArdle headed over after a set piece pumped into the box and Jed Wallace skewed wide at the end of a slick passing exchange from Harris' side.
Both ought to have found the net and it as the minutes ticked past it became clear that the opening incision would very likely be the winning one. There was a palpable fraying of nerves in the stands as both managers looked to the bench in search of inspiration. The leggy Timothee Dieng almost made an instant impact for Bradford, marauding down the right in an attack that culminated in Meredith nodding just wide.
Then came the moment. Gregory led a break down the left channel, feeding Williams and to sneaking into the box flick the subsequent cross towards the far post. Morison anticipated it perfectly, guiding his effort into the roof of the net to spark jubilant celebrations at the Millwall end – and, predictably, a pitch invasion when the final whistle sounded.
It wasn't pretty, but they won't care one bit. When do they ever?
Bradford City: Doyle; McArdle, Vincelot, Knight-Percival; McMahon, Cullen, Law (Dieng 73), Meredith; Clarke (Jones 73); Wyke, Marshall. Subs not used: Sattlemaier, Darby, Hiwula, Gilliead, Kilgallon
Millwall: Archer; Romeo, Webster, Hutchinson, Craig; Wallace, Abdou, Williams, O'Brien (Ferguson 69); Gregory, Morison. Subs not used: King, Worrall, Thompson, Onyedinma, Butcher, Cooper
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