Gary Rowett rued Millwall’s inability to cope with the pressure of their play-off pursuit after they surrendered a two-goal lead and their top-six spot in a 4-3 Sky Bet Championship defeat against Blackburn.
The Lions went into the final-day showdown at The Den knowing a win would keep their dream to reach the Premier League alive and raced into a 3-1 half-time lead courtesy of Duncan Watmore’s brace and an addition from Oliver Burke.
But Joe Rankin-Costello’s close-range finish saw the momentum shift Blackburn’s way and Ben Brereton Diaz’s double completed a remarkable turnaround, with Sunderland claiming the final play-off berth at the expense of both sides courtesy of a 3-0 win at Preston.
“As soon as their (Blackburn’s) second went in, you could see the nerves appear in the team and space began to open up everywhere,” Rowett said.
“We got ourselves into a brilliant position but you have to handle these big moments, you have to do the right things and show control and calmness. That was something we needed to do better.
“Sometimes games throw different challenges and you either deal with them or you don’t – we didn’t and we have to work out the reasons why.
“We had to be resilient. We haven’t conceded four in a game all season before now, which shows what pressure does.
“Their fourth goal was immaterial, it was the third one which hurt us. We knew the other results, so we knew we needed a winner.
“In some ways, I’d have taken losing 1-0 more easily than losing 4-3 from 3-1 up as it feels like we’ve let it slip through our fingers.
“The season as a whole has been strong, one of progress, but at this moment in time it feels like an excuse to use that.”
Blackburn leapfrogged Millwall into seventh as a result of their victory but manager Jon Dahl Tomasson could not hide his disappointment after missing out on the play-offs on goal difference.
Rovers spent much of the season in the top six but a winless eight-match run going into this clash ultimately proved costly.
Blackburn scored the fewest goals of any side in the top 10 and their Danish boss said: “It is extremely disappointing to miss out on goal difference but we all know why we are not in the play-offs.
“We have been lacking goals – to score four today is part of life.
“We were a bit nervous at the beginning but after Adam (Wharton) equalised, we were in control before giving two stupid goals away.
“The second half was exceptional. I told the boys in that dressing room at half-time that if we got one back, we could win the game and we did it.
“This is not an easy place to come to, so to be 3-1 behind and turn it around like we did was excellent.”
Tomasson went on to confirm Rovers’ match-winner Brereton Diaz had played his last game for the club but praised the Chile international – who is out of contract this summer and has been linked with a move to Villarreal – for going out on a high.
“Ben has done really well for the club and I’m really happy for him to end with goals and play like that,” he added. “He’s a brilliant lad.”
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