It finished off as ten versus nine in the crucial game at the foot of the Sky Bet Championship, but unfortunately for Latics, the only stat that really mattered were the two goals that condemned Latics to defeat, scored by Jimmy Abdou and Magaye Gueye in a bad-tempered game at the New Den.
Martyn Waghorn and Jason Pearce received red cards in the second half, while Ed Upson also saw red in a game that bubbled out of control on several occasions.
With so much riding on the game, it was perhaps inevitable that it would be a passionate game but no one could have predicted this turn of events.
Gary Caldwell’s team totally outpassed the opposition for the second game in succession but were not able to make that superiority pay when they squandered several great opportunities to open the scoring – and that proved crucial in the end.
Caldwell’s stuck to the starting eleven from Fulham, with the only change from the entire squad seeing 21 year old St Helener Tim Chow replace Billy Mckay on the bench.
James McClean warmed David Forde’s palms inside the first three minutes when he fizzed in a shot from a tight angle on the left side which his international colleague did well to beat away.
A mistake from Gaëtan Bong after 18 minutes almost allowed Millwall to score the opener. Aiden O’Brien intercepted a pass near the half-way line and raced through on goal but Scott Carson was out smartly to the edge of the box and blocked the shot with an outstretched leg.
Marc-Antoine Fortuné then had the chance of the half on 27 minutes when he met Bong’s deep cross but he didn’t get a clean connection and Forde was able to tip over.
Bong was then involved in a controversial moment when he caught Lee Gregory late, who did not taking kindly to the challenge and confronted the Cameroon international. Several players joined in and the referee had to separate them. Bong and Gregory both received yellow cards - the atmosphere was hotting up.
The challenges were flying in from the home side but Latics got their passing game going again and forced a corner on 38 minutes through James Perch after a great move. Millwall scrambled the ball away, Kim Bo-Kyung then forcing Forde into a good save at his near post.
As the half-time whistle approached Millwall claimed Bong then pulled back Bong in the box but the referee waved away the appeals and Latics conjured one more effort before the break. A neat move involving Fortuné and Kim forced another corner, Pennant found Pearce with another clinical delivery but the centre-half miscued his header on the penalty spot.
The second half exploded into life when Shaun Cummings appeared to trip McClean in the box but nothing was given and Millwall raced away to the other end where O’Brien’s clever chip forced a superb save from Carson at full stretch. Emmerson Boyce then had to clear away a cross at the far post under pressure. Millwall seemed to have found an extra spring in their step all of a sudden.
Caldwell responded by replacing Fortuné with former Millwall loanee Martyn Waghorn but just as Latics had got themselves back in the game so disaster struck.
Waghorn chased a long punt forward from Carson, and seemed to become involved in a tussle with Cummings as the Millwall defender shielded the ball out for a goal kick, and then appeared to kick out at Dan Harding. The referee showed a red card. The substitute had lasted just nine minutes.
Latics had it all to do but they forged a great chance when Kim set up Bong on the left but he blazed over from eight yards. It was still Latics playing all the football, with McClean switching to a central role and Caldwell still with any other option but to go for the win.
But then Gregory wriggled free on the left, swung in a cross and Abdou arrived late in the box to launch an unstoppable header past Carson, with 74 minutes gone.
With ten minutes left, there were more crazy scenes as Pearce was shown a straight red card for a foul on O’Brien near the corner flag, Millwall defender Ed Upson was also shown a red for his reaction as another scuffle among the players ensued.
Tim Chow replaced Pennant to make his debut, minutes before McClean saw an effort blocked. With Latics going for it, it left space at the back and former Everton striker Gueye made Latics pay in injury pay as he raced clear and fired on the angle past Carson.