Southampton last night produced the kind of resilient performance that will have their manager, Gordon Strachan, quietly believing that they can go much further in the FA Cup this season.
The reward for victory against a fiercely competitive Millwall side – it was their first defeat at The Den since October – is a home tie against another First Division club, Norwich City. Victory then and who knows? There are now only seven top-flight teams left in the competition.
The football may be prettier in the next round but it will hardly be more committed. The Premiership team – who had relied on a 90th-minute equaliser to force this replay – needed extra time to prevail. A second goal by the impressive Matthew Oakley, a low shot from the edge of the area in an identical position to his first strike, settled it.
This was just the kind of match, against a side managed by his best friend in football, Mark McGhee, that Strachan will have, with some apprehension, expected. His side were well prepared. "I told them that they had to be brave on the night and play," Strachan said afterwards. "And some of our build-up play was excellent." Indeed it was, as was their commitment.
After weathering the inevitable early storm, in which the teenager Charley Hearn should have scored when through on the edge of the area and Steven Reid saw his driven free-kick just clear the bar, it was Southampton who went ahead. On 21 minutes, Anders Svensson chested the ball into the path of Oakley, whose half-volley from 20 yards took a slight deflection past the goalkeeper Tony Warner.
It knocked back the home side who until then had attacked in numbers and with passion, adhering to McGhee's demand for 'controlled aggression'. However, Dennis Wise had taken things a bit too far after just four minutes and was booked following a typically petulant altercation.
However, Millwall got the break they so desperately needed before half-time. Steve Claridge went clear on the right and crossed low for Reid whose first effort was saved at close-range by Antti Niemi, only for it to rebound back to the young Irish winger just two yards out.
Millwall continued with the 36-year-old Claridge – six goals in six games – as a lone striker and packed the midfield as they have done to such success in recent games. Their run has taken them within two points of the play-off zone – all the more impressive because they are missing influential players such as Richard Sadlier and Tim Cahill.
The second period started with Millwall pushed back in their own half as the Premiership side's midfield took a grip as Anders Svensson became more influential. But the home side rallied and produced a string of corners from which Claridge, turning sharply 10 yards out, produced a fine tip-over from Niemi.
Within seconds James Beattie, with his first chance of the match, saw his header come back off the post while, at the other end, Paul Ifill's attempt to volley Reid's cross ended in the crowd. It was as close as either side came before extra-time and Oakley's second intervention.
Millwall, increasingly exhausted, mounted one last assault and Niemi made a brave intervention at the feet of the substitute Ben May. At the end Warner joined the attack for a final corner but it was cleared with ease and the Saints could breathe a sigh of relief.
"Tonight they edged it," McGhee admitted. "At times we worked hard to contain them and we did for a long, long time. But on balance they deserved to go through."
Millwall (4-5-1): Warner; Lawrence (Baltacha, 110), Ryan, Robinson, Ward; Ifill, Livermore, Wise (May, 104), Hearn (Kinet, 86), Reid; Claridge. Substitutes not used: Guéret (gk), Roberts.
Southampton (4-4-2): Niemi; Telfer, Benali, M Svensson, Lundekvam; Fernandes (Ormerod, 105), Oakley, A Svensson, Marsden; Beattie, Tessem (Davies, 65). Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Williams, Arias.
Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).
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