Another season, another play-off campaign.
For the seventh time since the 1980’s – and the third in seven years – Millwall found their campaign extended for another two games, at the least. A fourth-placed finish meant a two-legged semi-final affair with Bradford City, which the Lions came through with relative ease, winning 4-2 on aggregate after a sublime 3-1 victory at Valley Parade in the first-leg.
This Sunday’s play-off final with Barnsley at Wembley Stadium will be the club’s 58th game of a monumental season. Many things have been learned over its course, but for the purposes of this week’s blog – the final one of the year – I’ll be taking a look at three things learned in particular.
Without a doubt, the first and most evident aspect is the unity between fans and players.
This season has seen the return of the true Millwall that we all know and love – when everyone involved is united in harmony, as this year has shown, the Lions are a force to be reckoned with.
The atmosphere was fractious at the beginning of the campaign as life after relegation began (four defeats on the trot certainly didn’t help to resolve matters!); but from October onwards, the real Millwall has been on show on the pitch and in the stands – it’s no coincidence that the upturn in form and surge up the table took place in conjunction with this.
Secondly, whilst it isn’t exactly something that needed to be learned, the return to playing two up front has paid dividends this season.
In Lee Gregory and Steve Morison, the club have the most potent partnership for over a decade – their 46 goals (27 and 19 respectively) sits level with Peter Burridge and Dave Jones’ total from the 1961/62 season, whilst the most famous partnership in Lions’ history, Teddy Sheringham and Tony Cascarino, are just one ahead with 47.
Millwall’s most successful sides play in a 4-4-2 formation. It’s as simple as that. A flat, solid back four is accompanied by two wingers and two strikers.
Managers in the past may have tried to change this philosophy, but if you really want to be a thriving Lions boss, basing your teams on that system is a good starting point.
In addition to that, keeping a settled side this season has worked wonders for Neil Harris. Slight changes here and there have had to be made for certain reasons, but the majority of the team has stuck together all year and built up respect, trust and a sixth sense with each other – consistency breeds success.
Finally; I think we’ve learned that whilst this young, hungry side is filled with just as much youth as it is experience, they have the ability to be physical and mix it with any team, play sides at their own game and/or impose their game on the opposition.
Whilst learning his trade at the beginning of the year; Harris’ tactical decisions left a lot to be desired at times, but in the second-half of the campaign, the legendary striker has been spot on numerous times, beating teams before the game had even begun.
In the first-leg of the play-off semi-final with Bradford, the Lions played their Yorkshire counterparts at their own game; they were physical, got in the Bantams’ faces and won the aerial battles against their imposing centre-halves.
An attacking blitz in the first-half was accompanied by a superb and resolute defensive display in the second, meaning the club came away with a priceless 3-1 win, making the second-leg a bit easier for all involved (except Bradford, obviously!).
Over the course of the season, vital cogs in that side have come to the fore – in Ben Thompson, the Lions have the terrier in the middle that they have been missing; tough-tackling and unable to take no for an answer, the midfielder oozes the Millwall spirit.
At right-back, although he unfortunately misses the play-offs through suspension, Mahlon Romeo has brought class to the position, producing performances beyond his years on a weekly basis.
The likes of Jordan Archer, Byron Webster and Morison have also stepped up to the plate this season, helping boss Harris along the way to a shot at Wembley glory in his very first full season in professional management.
Should the Lions drag themselves over the line on Sunday; it will probably be one of, if not the, greatest achievements in the club’s history.
But even if they don’t, the future is bright – and that’s the first time we’ve been able to say that in a long, long time.
That’s it from me this season, thanks for reading. Come on you Lions!