Murray Wallace knows all about the magic of the cups. They certainly seem to be the competitions that the Millwall defender tends to grab the headlines.
It was the 28-year-old Scot who scored the stoppage time winner to turf Everton out of the FA Cup at a wet and wild Den in January 2019 and he followed up with the only goal against AFC Wimbledon to seal passage to the fifth round.
Bookings in both those ties meant he was suspended for the home quarter-final against Brighton.
Ankle and knee ligament damage, sustained at Hull City, ended his campaign in February anyway.
But Wallace was back stealing the spotlight in Millwall’s 3-1 EFL Cup victory over Cambridge in August – setting up next Wednesday’s meeting with Leicester City in SE16.
The left wing-back scored twice and was denied a first career hat-trick when a bullet header crashed back off the crossbar.
Wallace was also part of the Falkirk side which reached the Scottish League Cup semi-final. They knocked out Rangers and Dundee United, both in the division above them, before losing 3-1 to Celtic at Hampden.
“I’ve enjoyed playing in the cups, regardless of what team I’ve been at,” said Glasgow-born Wallace, who won four caps at U21 level.
“That was before Rangers had their [financial] troubles. They were top of the league and had some top-class players. They were playing in the Champions League – it was quite a big scalp to take.
“Falkirk were going through a bit of a transition and getting a lot of younger players through. We were massive underdogs. That’s where the best cup runs come from. It’s such an amazing feeling when you knock them out.”
Wallace has scored 19 goals in 354 matches spread across 10 different tournaments.
So to nearly get a treble against Cambridge was a new experience.
“A few of the lads were joking with me at half-time – they just couldn’t believe it,” said Wallace. “As a centre-back, although I was playing left wing-back in that game, it’s not something you get many opportunities in your career to have.
“I was dying for anything to go in. I was up and down the pitch and ended up cramping up towards the end because I was trying so hard to get that hat-trick. I haven’t even had two in a game before.
“You’d need to go back to when I was playing seven-a-side football for my last hat-trick, when the games were finishing 10-6.”
Wallace’s first in his brace against the U’s certainly didn’t make him appear an infrequent scorer. He slalomed inside a Cambridge defender before rifling into the bottom corner of the net on his weaker right foot.
“I had a bit of space to run into,” he recalled. “I thought about crossing it and that hopefully big Smudger [Matt Smith] could nod it in. But just as I was about to do that the defender over-committed a little, so I chopped inside and it opened up quite nicely.
“It’s something I try in training – with mixed results. I’m glad that one hit the back of the net.”
Millwall twice came from behind to take out the Toffees. Jake Cooper made it 2-2 with 15 minutes remaining, the cameras catching then boss Neil Harris shouting “turn the f****** screen off’ as the replays showed a potential handball.
Wallace then pounced from close range after Shaun Williams’ free-kick was nodded down into his path by Shaun Hutchinson, taking a touch before rolling the ball past Jordan Pickford
“I just remember The Den being fully packed out,” said Wallace. “The noise…it was probably the best atmosphere I’ve ever experienced.
“To be a part of that team and that run was just brilliant.
“Unfortunately I got quite a bad injury, I tore ligaments in my knee and pretty much all my ligaments in my ankle. I was gutted. I got booked in the Wimbledon game, so I was suspended. We very nearly beat Brighton to make it a fairytale run. Millwall have got quite a good history of cup runs and knocking out big opposition, especially when they come to The Den. I enjoy playing in them. It’s always nice to score goals, regardless of what competition it is in.”
Looking from the outside, Wallace appears to be a manager’s dream – going about his job effectively and with the minimum of fuss.
He has been an ever-present in the Championship this season and has played 108 matches for Millwall, who he joined on a free transfer after leaving the Iron in June 2018.
“I’m enjoying my football,” said Wallace. “I want to play as many games as possible.
“Unfortunately in my time here I’ve had a few injuries which I had not really experienced in my whole career. I’ve usually tended to stay quite fit, so that has been a new challenge.
“Over the last couple of seasons you can see how well the team has done and how much they are progressing. The squad we have got is really strong.”
It will take something special for Millwall to top their last encounter with Leicester.
Cooper was sent off in the 52nd minute but Shaun Cummings’s goal had the Den bouncing as they picked up a famous win over the reigning Premier League champions.
This time around the Foxes also have a Europa League campaign inserted into their schedule, which could affect the strength of their line-up next midweek.
Wallace, a Hearts fan, said: “They have got so much quality that whoever they bring in is still going to be a real top-class player.
“They can change their whole team but the next 11 they bring in are still going to be unbelievable players. You look forward to that sort of challenge.
“What you don’t really want in a cup draw is to get someone in your own league because you already play them twice – there is no glamour in that. I always hope for some of the biggest teams to come to The Den.
“I’d love to go and play at Old Trafford, it would be an amazing experience.”
Do a number on Leicester – again – and that could become a reality.
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