It almost doesn’t feel right, does it?
After four years of seemingly endless miserable Saturday afternoons and Tuesday nights, suffering defeat after defeat, Neil Harris’ refurbished Millwall side have strung together four wins on the trot in SE16 over the last month – five out of the last six, too.
The last three – all 2-0 wins, over Northampton Town (Johnstone’s Paint Trophy), Swindon Town and Doncaster Rovers – have all been relatively comfortable, too. The Cobblers spread the ball around at will without getting anywhere, Doncaster knew where the goal was but couldn’t put the ball in it, whilst Swindon were…. well, pants, to be blunt.
Add in the win over Rochdale and the Lions haven’t tasted defeat since the 2-0 loss to Southend United on September 19th; a game they should’ve won.
Why the turnaround? Why is the same side that couldn’t buy a victory in SE16 early in the season suddenly starting to look unstoppable at home?
A lot of it is to do with Harris finding his feet as a manager. I stressed at the start of the season to stick with the current regime and to give them time – Rome wasn’t built in a day – and to not get on their backs. Perhaps inevitably, some did, but they are surely eating their words now. If there’s anyone to get the team back playing ‘the Millwall way’, it’s ‘Bomber’.
The long ball game and one up front formations are now a thing of the past. A simple game of pass and move, getting the ball wide and feeding the strikers has paid dividends. As a result, the goals are flowing. Up until recently, they have also been flowing at the other end, but a relatively stable back four seems to have put a stop to that.
Harris was never going to get everything right straight away. He still won’t, even now. But the difference is there for all to see – himself and his assistant, David Livermore, must take the plaudits for that.
If there was one criticism – one which could come back to haunt us – it would be that the Lions are not clinical and ruthless enough in front of goal. Against Swindon, the opposition never looked like scoring. However, at the other end, Millwall racked up a whopping 20 chances, scoring just two. Steve Morison should have walked away with two match balls, let alone one, whilst a plethora of chances also fell the way of Aiden O’Brien, Lee Gregory (despite netting the opener and playing a huge part in the build-up to the second), George Saville and more.
Likewise in the first-half against Doncaster on Tuesday night, a hatful of opportunities fell the Lions’ way, but were spurned. Ben Thompson’s delightful through-ball sent Gregory in on goal, but he dallied, allowing the ‘keeper to make a save, whilst the striker turned provider, laying the ball on a plate for Morison and O’Brien, but both shot wide with the goal at their mercy.
You could argue the fact that as long as we score more than the opposition, then that’s fine. And it is. But when you see clear-cut chance after clear-cut chance missed (and that’s what they were – clear-cut), you begin to wonder whether a more clinical opponent would take advantage. Had they been able to find the net, both Swindon and Doncaster could have easily travelled back home with a point.
However, looking as the positives, the goalscoring chart now reads: O’Brien 7, Morison 5, Gregory 4 and Beevers 4. It’s been a while since the goals were shared around the side like that, especially with all three first-team strikers at the top of the charts.
Speaking of Beevers, I have always maintained that he is the best centre-half we have, but after a shaky period last season, in which it emerged that he wanted to leave for his homeland of the north (let’s be honest, even I wanted to leave the club under Holloway), he has returned with a vengeance this term, adding an air of calm in the back-four, as well as being a genuine goalscoring threat at set-pieces. If the season was to end now, he would be my Player of the Year by quite a considerable distance.
This Saturday brings an old nemesis from last season to The Den in Bradford City. With James Hanson up front – who would’ve been in a Millwall shirt this season, if not for Phil Parkinson – they will possess a threat in front of goal.
The team will need to take any chances that come their way. If they do, I don’t see any reason why we won’t be talking about a fifth consecutive home win come 5pm.
Isn’t it nice to have some home comforts?