If the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy was pencilled in as Millwall’s release valve in a tension-packed topsy-turvy season, then Thursday night’s first leg defeat only served to rack the nerves further.

The warming sight of a Wembley date drifted further into the distance on a freezing night in south London as the first leg in the southern area final went decidedly in Oxford United favour. Manager’s Neil Harris’s “mountain to climb” seemed like inadequate geological feature to match the scale of the task.

But that is not to say that Millwall were drilled out of the game, according to the boss. Yes, goal hero Kemar Roofe secured the leg for the League Two team over the League One with two first half goals but “we had enough chances to win two or three games tonight,” said the boss.

Oxford had done a number on Swansea in the FA Cup on Saturday so were brimming with confidence with Roofe on the score sheet twice against the Premier League strugglers, his 14th and 15th goals of the season.

He added to that thanks, in part to a stuttering performance from goalkeeper David Forde – although he saved a penalty late on to spare more blushes – and a frontline, including Steve Morison that unable to find the net when the chances came.

Harris has not thrown in the towel yet though and believes a side – bedevilled with inconsistencies – can throw the dice and still come good in the second leg on Wednesday, February 3.

He told the club’s website : “Things didn’t quite fall for us in the box, which unfortunately is the way things have gone a little bit at home recently.

“We had a lot of the territory and got plenty of balls into the box, but that bounce wouldn’t go our way.

“We’re disappointed to get beaten and we have given ourselves a mountain to climb, but we are more than capable. It is going to be difficult in the second leg but we believe we’ve got the strength of character and quality to turn it around.”

In the Northern Area Final first leg, Barnsley and Fleetwood Town battled out a 1-1 draw, leaving that tie firmly in the balance.

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