Alex Rae on Millwall: Harris’ style, Rovers clash & play-off hopes
It’s all-or-nothing for Millwall on Sunday. Beat Bristol Rovers, and they secure a play-off spot. Fail to win, and it’s likely they’ll be knocked out of the top six in League One.
Here’s how I see this weekend’s crunch clash going, as well as my take on everything from Neil Harris’ management strengths, to why last year’s play-off heartbreak could stand the Lions in good stead this time around.
Lions can pass crucial Rovers test
Millwall’s home record may have come to a crushing end with defeat to Oxford United at the weekend, but the encouraging thing for Neil Harris and his players is that it’s in their own hands. Beat Bristol Rovers and they’ve got that play-off spot.
I think you’re much more confident when you know it’s in your own hands.
Obviously the last couple of results haven’t been great, but I was at the Den back in March when they faced MK Dons, winning 2-1 I was really impressed by their desire to get the result – as I have been all season. It wasn’t free-flowing football on the day, but they know how to get over the line and win those close games.
I think it’ll be tight at the Memorial Stadium this weekend, but Millwall should just about edge it.
Last year’s heartbreak could prove helpful
I think it’s always useful to sample something in football – even if it’s an awful experience, as the play-off final was for Millwall last season. But having experienced Wembley and that pressure, I think it’ll prove a big advantage if they do reach the final again this year.
I also think it can be a benefit to sneak in as the last-placed team. Four times as a player, I was involved in teams that finished in the top play-off spot and didn’t win promotion.
The time that I scraped into the final spot with Wolverhampton Wanderers, we did go up. If you come in at the right time, with momentum, it’s a huge boost.
Teams are generally so well-matched in the play-off pack, that the buzz of sneaking into the top six and the experience Millwall have had could prove crucial. If they can make the cut.
League One rivals wouldn’t fancy Den trip
Oxford may have ended Millwall’s 15-game unbeaten home run last weekend, but no opposition side would be relishing a visit to the Den – especially with the noise you’re likely to get at a play-off game.
I think they can make it an intimidating place to come, and as a Lions’ player, it’s a massive boost when those fans get behind you. They can also make it such a difficult place to come as an opposition player – especially with the likes of Steve Morison up front.
For me, he symbolises exactly what a Millwall player should be. He’s tough, tenacious, energetic and has that bit of class about him.
If he’s on song, and the fans are in good voice, it’s such a tough place for potential play-off opponents to come – you’ve already seen several Premier League sides lose there in the cup this season.
Eight scorers in nine games highlights quality
I’ve touched on Morison there, but he’s been one of a number of players who’ve impressed me this season. And with nine players scoring in the past nine games, it’s obvious the manager has a good squad at his disposal.
I like Lee Gregory a lot. He’s got great stamina, is a fine finisher – and he’s been on fire at times this season.
The likes of Shaun Williams and Ben Thompson have both been extremely reliable in midfield, as well. The latter certainly knows how to get stuck in – and would’ve fit in well in the Millwall side I played in during the 1990s!
Having goal threats throughout the team makes them a really difficult team to contain. If you’re over-reliant on one player, opponents can put all their resources into marking them. But it’s far tougher to keep multiple goal threats at bay. So that’s another plus for Neil.
Promotion would have to mean additions
While I do rate the current squad highly in League One terms, if they jump up a division this time out, they will definitely need to add more quality. That’s always been the experience with promoted teams I’ve been part of at Sunderland and Wolves.
In some cases, it’s a bit tough on certain players who’ve helped get you up – if they’re sold on or don’t get as much game time, but you need to bring in players who can complement your current key players. Otherwise, it becomes a really long and difficult season.
Neil’s sure style bodes well for future
The boss has delivered a style which not only works well, but is one the fans at the Den appreciate. They’re a side who always roll their sleeves up when the going gets tough, they don’t mind a bit of a scrap, and they also know how to win games.
Tactically, they’ve stuck with a 4-4-2 system this season, and it’s one the players know and are well-drilled in.
I think the side lacked a style and ethos for quite some time before Neil took over as manager, and now they’ve got that identity as a side again.
On top of that, he’s also blooded some of the young talent at the squad – and having been involved in the youth setup before becoming first-team manager, he’s got a really good idea of who’s ready to make the step up. Fans love to see their own boys coming through the side, and that’s no different at the Den!
As far as I’m concerned, he’s a great fit for the club.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing