Irish duo's basement battle
David Forde and James McClean were fighting for their futures at The Den
Published 15/04/2015 | 02:30
On a testy Tuesday evening in London, far removed from the glory of the Champions League, the players of Millwall and Wigan engaged in a frantic fight for survival.
Two Irish internationals were stuck right in the middle of it and, at the end, it was David Forde who came away smiling.
The Millwall goalkeeper has intentions of rubbing shoulders with the stars alongside James McClean at next summer's European Championships, but they were enemies here in the kind of full-blooded occasion which functions as their reality for now.
Three red cards and numerous scraps gave this relegation battle a literal meaning. The Irish duo have spent this season toiling for clubs that are now desperately trying to run up an escalator that is sliding downwards.
Millwall's win gives the Galwegian a better chance of avoiding a drop to League One, although it's still entirely possible that both will end up there. That grim outcome would understandably lead them to consider their employment situations.
Neither Forde or McClean have come in for serious criticism for their performances. The perception is that they've given everything to avoid this scenario. That will be of little consolation if it goes wrong.
The simple fact is that their futures are wrapped up in how this relegation battle plays out. Martin O'Neill looked elsewhere when he picked his starting team for Poland last month and that logic must have been influenced by the impact of spending a winter fighting fires.
Forde did not have a huge amount to do in this game where Wigan wasted their best opportunities. Irish U-21 striker Aiden O'Brien was busier at the other end, while Malahide's Shaun Williams was forced off with a first-half injury.
McClean, meanwhile, raged against the dying of the light, with familiar abuse from home supporters ringing in his ears. One would assume that if the winger ever gets around to chronicling his life in autobiography form, his trips to Millwall will add to the colour.
It took an animated section of fans standing at their seats a couple of minutes to realise that the outspoken Derry man - so beloved in certain venues because of his stance on the poppy - was present.
From that point onwards, every touch was greeted with loud boos and the abuse levels soared when he got involved in a shoving match with local favourite Sid Nelson, which sparked the crowd into life.
That edge remained. That's because the stakes were so high. In the preliminaries, the protagonists learned of a potential lifeline after the breaking news that Rotherham, the 21st placed team which they are trying to overhaul, had fielded an ineligible loan player in a game with Brighton earlier this season.
The three-point deduction which is predicted, but not guaranteed, has the potential to completely change the course of the run-in.
Millwall's triumph moves them within four points behind Rotherham with four games remaining. Wigan are three further back and look to be doomed even if a sanction is dished out.
Compared to his colleagues, McClean retained his composure as the walls closed in .
The game turned on the dismissal of Wigan's Martyn Waghorn for a petulant kick on the hour mark. He was later followed down the tunnel by Jason Pearce after a spat which also led to Millwall's Ed Upson heading for an early bath.
As formations lost their relevance, McClean functioned as a lone striker and drifted from right to left, yet his efforts were in vain. Goals from Jimmy Abdou and Magaye Gueye prompted Forde to run from between the sticks with his arms wide in celebration.
McClean tracked him down for a hug after the final whistle, before walking towards the tunnel head bowed after an evening which accelerates a big decision coming down the tracks in the summer.