For Millwall this was VB Day – Victory In Bermondsey Day – a chance to celebrate the club’s escape, for now at least, from a compulsory purchase order that threatened their existence in this part of the capital on the back of sustained public pressure and strong media backing. A momentous moment and it was ultimately fitting that they should follow it up with another victory, this time on the pitch and one that saw the south Londoners yet again slay Premier League opposition.
Just as had been the case against Bournemouth in the third round, Millwall played with great togetherness, tenacity and, crucially, a desire to win.
Neil Harris’s men were not daunted by facing a side that sits 39 places above them and having created a host of a chances they got the goal their display deserved. There were only five minutes to play when the League One’s side’s top-scorer Steve Morison connected with substitute Shane Ferguson’s deep cross with a perfectly-timed volley at the back post. The ball fizzed through the legs of Heurelho Gomes and the hosts had their breakthrough.
For Watford it was a bitter blow so late in the contest but, in truth, what they deserved on the back of a largely listless display. Last season’s semi-finalists are out of the FA Cup and next face the daunting prospect of a trip to Arsenal.
It was last Wednesday that Sir Steve Bullock, Lewisham council’s elected mayor, announced that the CPO on Millwall’s land “should not proceed”, a crucial first stage in a campaigning victory for the club and its community – due in large part to exposés by the Guardian’s Barney Ronay.
Not surprisingly, the reaction to that news among home fans as they made their way to The Den on Sunday was of delight and relief. Yet there was also a level of caution, the very real sense that this four-year saga, involving off-shore developers and lies over funding, is not over just yet.
“What happened was underhanded, and that’s what got the fans’ backs up,” said Peter Morgan, 61, from Kidbrook. “And we’re all still on our guard because this plan isn’t 100% dead in the water.”
James Orla, 59, from Charlton, added: “As fans, we’re aware of the need to improve the area around the stadium, and the stadium itself, we just didn’t like the way Lewisham Council went about it. It was through the backdoor, and that’s why some of us still fear this isn’t over.”
That caution may have explained why there was a somewhat muted atmosphere inside The Den prior to kick-off. The crowd was sparse and bar a few banners that read “We support Millwall’s fight against the Lewisham4”, very little sense that this had been a momentous, celebratory week in the club’s history.