After an incredibly tough 2018/19, Millwall have started this season in fine style. Manager Neil Harris explained to Sam Parkin how he wants his side to bounce back this year…
Last season was undoubtedly Neil Harris’s toughest as Millwall manager.
They only narrowly avoided relegation, arguably only staying up in the end because of the collective inadequacies of Rotherham, Ipswich and Bolton. What’s more, Harris accused some players in his squad of being unprofessional and not wanting to play for the club.
But after a summer clear-out, Millwall have started this season in much more encouraging fashion, taking four points from a tricky first two league games against West Brom and Preston, before beating the Baggies in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday night.
The Totally Football League Show’s Sam Parkin spoke to Harris after the game, and found a manager in much brighter spirits than the frustrated one of last term.
“I feel what I’ve achieved at the club – two playoff finals, promotion, eighth place in the Championship – staying up last year was probably my biggest achievement, because it was a tough year. It was a real tough second half of the season. There were a lot of things that went on we had to deal with.
“I made the decision this summer that if I wanted to do the job and do the best of my ability, I wanted to be able to make changes. I had fantastic support from the board. It’s been a lot of hard work over the summer.
“Just because we’ve we’ve had three games unbeaten it doesn’t mean we’re the finished article in the Championship because it’s a ruthless league and you can lose games as quick as you can win them.
“What I do know is that professionalism I’ve got now in the group, the standards they’re setting on the training pitch every day and off the pitch is as good as I’ve known as a manager or player. And the camaraderie in the group at Millwall has to be has to be at the very best it can be because we’re in it together. We haven’t got the cash, we haven’t got the ability that some teams have got. So we have to count on different things.”
So what are the realistic aims for this season?
“All I want to do is be better than last year. Last year was really tough for the group, for me, my staff, the players that are still here.
“I want a team that performs all season – even if we get beat – like we have over the first three games of the season. Because that’s the team that the punters are proud of. The atmosphere in the first three games that our fans have produced has quite phenomenal.
“I want to just keep moving forward and let this group develop and move forward and then add to it over a period of time and then we can sustain Championship football.”
One thing that Harris has tried to change this season is to be more flexible, specifically recruiting players with the ability to switch systems and approach to the game, ideally during the game.
“When we changed the squad in the summer, I wanted have the flexibility to change shape, whether that’s a four at the back, three at the back, whether it’s an old fashioned Millwall 4-4-2 – whatever system we want to play, we wanted the flexibility to be able to it.
“I feel I’ve got that flexibility in the group now – that’s down to me to manage and to get right, but it’s down to the players to perform when they get given the opportunity.
“I said to the players that even if we win games, I’m going to change it. I might change it to suit the opposition, or just to suit us, or just to freshen it up. And if you make those comments, you have to better back it up. But the players deserve the plaudits because they’re the ones that have to go out and perform.”
Staying up last season was probably my biggest achievement. There were a lot of things that went on we had to deal with.
Tuesday saw striker Tom Bradshaw find the net for the first time since suffering the knee ligament injury that put him out of the second half of last season.
“I mentioned him the changing room afterwards,” Harris said, “and he got a standing ovation from his teammates and the staff, which goes to show his standing within the group.
“His professionalism, his application, his desire to get back from a serious knee injury – it’s about as good as I’ve seen. He’s still not 100 percent and I’ve still got to manage him between games, but he’s a very good goal scorer, so I’m delighted for him to get off the mark.”
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