Date:Saturday March 18 2006
Stephen Hughes scored the vital winning goal but Leicester City's rare win at Millwall was glowing testimony to the broader values of team spirit, collective belief and resilience.
Leicester had no hope of being a pretty sight on a seaside mudflat-type pitch and in a westerly wind which bit with as much ferocity as any Lion in the ampitheatre that is the New Den.
This was gladiatorial attrition. Kill or be killed.
Though they didn't know it, Leicester delivered the fatal blow in the 31st minute.
After Gudjonsson had led a period of softening up Iain Hume found Hughes in the penalty box and he cleverly lofted the ball beyond Millwall keeper Andy Marshall's despairing reach.
Gudjonsson's 'softening' was in typically flamboyant style. First he returned an Andy Marshall clearance straight back on the volley for what might have matched the brilliance of his recent halfway line goal. But, although it made the goalkeeper scamper, his aim was just wide.
Encouraged, and after watching a Hume shot dip close, Gudjonsson was denied another never-to-be forgotten goal when his ferocious free-kick somehow bounced outwards off the underside of the crossbar and to safety, with the goalkeeper motionless.
Millwall responded immediately after Hughes' goal.
Alan Dunne fed Marvin Elliott who hit the right hand post with Henderson floundering and the ball rebounded to Colin Cameron whose follow-up was deflected over the bar by Patrick Kisnorbo.
If Leicester had the best of the first half the pattern changed to one of concerted Millwall probing in the second.
With Marvin Williams (30 minutes) and later Barry Hayles joining the action, Millwall were much more threatening.
City goalkeeper Paul Henderson was occasionally uncertain dealing with crosses but he smothered a Williams shot, tipped a goalbound header from Paul Robinson over the bar, and deflected a glancing Ben May effort around a post, vital contributions at an important time.
It wasn't always calm, collected defending - there was even a realistic Millwall penalty claim for an apparent foul on Hayles - but City survived by a willingness to work and to get their heads and feet in where it hurt whenever the need arose.
Chris O'Grady replaced Matty Fryatt to take up the holding role up front and Andy Welsh was finally introduced for Hume to make a five man midfield for the closing exchanges.
Kelly's timing was perfect. Millwall seemed to sense their chances had gone.
They gradually lost momentum as the wound of Hughes goal and their increasing desperation sapped their energy.
Few teams outlast Leicester and so it proved as they regained composure at the death and retained possession in small groups with practiced efficiency to see out the game.
They also saw out most of the Millwall fans who disappeared in droves, some to stage a protest outside about the club's management.
Kelly and co had laid the bogey of the Den with City's first win in nearly 37 years just as they'd ended a 20-year bogey at QPR.
Millwall might have had more than a dozen corners to Leicester's nil until the possession football finish but it was Leicester who collected the three points that took them to likely safety by all normal logic.
Kisnorbo was immense at the heart of City's defence but it was a day when teamwork deserved the praise - that and the managements subtle tactical manipulation.
With seven games to go City can now probably enjoy an end to the season that was never likely to be on the agenda two months ago.
Millwall: Marshall, Lawrence, Vincent (Hayles, 57mins), Elliott, Whitbread, Robinson, Livermore, Cameron, May, Asaba (Williams, 30mins), Dunne. Subs not used: Doyle, Phillips, Braniff.
Bookings: Whitbread (26mins), Lawrence (66mins), May (75mins)
Leicester City: Henderson, Maybury, Kisnorbo, Hughes, McCarthy, Williams, Hume (Welsh, 83mins), Fryatt (O'Grady, 65mins), Johansson, Gudjonsson, Stearman. Subs not used: Douglas, Brevett, Gerrbrand.
Booking: O'Grady (78mins)
Scorer: Hughes (31mins)
Ref: Mike Thorpe
Attendance: 10,523 (Away 1,033)
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|5. Crystal Palace||46||19||15||12||11||72|
|6. Leicester City||46||19||11||16||23||68|
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