Millwall manager Neil Harris is hoping for a home tie against Crystal Palace in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup after the Lions edged out AFC Wimbledon 1-0 to make the last eight of the competition for the second time in three seasons.
Murray Wallace’s early header was all that separated the two sides at Kingsmeadow, ending the Dons’ record-breaking run in the competition.
Harris, who had two stints at The Den as a player, was not part of the 2003/04 side that made it all the way to the final at the Millennium Stadium, but now has Wembley in his sights following a tough game in surroundings that were a far cry from England’s national stadium.
And the 41-year-old was delighted to see the current crop of players make further contributions to the club’s impressive FA Cup pedigree.
“What an achievement for a club our size,” said Harris. “Four times in 15 years, that is an unbelievable achievement. I said to them before the game ‘it will not be pretty today – it will not be free flowing’.
“Off the ball we knew Wimbledon would make it really difficult for us and they did. If we had got the second goal with 20 or 30 minutes to go we may have gone and got three or four and made it more comfortable.
“No disrespect to Doncaster Rovers, but if Palace get through I want to get them [in the draw]. To be at the Den, 20,000 of our fans to see a cup quarter-final is what I want.”
Harris’ men are often praised for their grit and determination and that was in evidence once again at Kingsmeadow where, despite a second-half revival from the hosts, they held firm and were good value for the win, which will also reap notable financial rewards.
The Millwall boss said: “We know what is needed in these cup ties and it is not always about being the best footballing team.
“It is about being the team with the biggest heart and the right footballing mentality, who can win first and second balls and set plays. That is why they have done so well under me in this competition.
“The chairman and board have put their own money into the club without a return. It is not money we can spend until the summer, but it cuts the losses and helps us move forward.”
Opposite number Wally Downes was rueful about the early chance squandered just before Murray’s goal, when Joe Pigott’s glancing effort from a Shane McLoughlin centre rattled off the post.
He said: “If you’re playing a team in the division above and you create a chance early, you’ve got to take it because you know they’re going to be very efficient at what they do.
“If they get a chance, they’re going to punish you and that’s exactly what happened.
“I was very pleased with the way the lads applied themselves today. On the day we were a match for Millwall and there was a hair’s breadth between us.”
The double introduction of Dylan Connolly and Mitchell Pinnock saw the Dons play with more verve, although they found it tough to break down an obdurate Millwall defence.
“We work all week on two or three different shapes because in a cup game that has to be won on the day, you need to be adaptable,” said Downes. “If we needed a goal, we had to move to a different shape and bring on Dylan and Mitchell.”
The 57-year-old was famously part of the Crazy Gang that won the FA Cup in 1988 and AFC Wimbledon’s win over West Ham in the last round was yet another reminder of the glorious memories this competition can conjure up.
“We had some great times here when I was playing for Wimbledon,” said Downes. “We played Nottingham Forest two years on the trot and they’d won the European Cup a couple of years beforehand.
“I remember those games, but if you put a gun to my head now I couldn’t tell you what division we were in. Fans will remember days like West Ham for the rest of their lives and pass down the folklore. Anyone who isn’t putting out the strongest side for their fans isn’t doing the club justice.”
Attentions now turn to the bread and butter of league football, with the club seven points adrift of Sky Bet League One safety.
Downes said: “We know our home performances have got to be promotion-level now. The cup has been a wonderful distraction for us, but we’ve got 14 cup finals left.”