Have Millwall ever scored a later goal than Lee Gregory’s 98th minute winner on Sunday?
The striker’s penalty deep, deep into injury-time at Priestfield not only secured a 2-1 victory over Gillingham, but it also meant that Neil Harris’ side cemented themselves in fourth place in the table, setting up a two-legged play-off semi-final with Bradford City, in which the Lions find themselves at home second.
An 81-point haul meant that the club eventually finished just four points short of automatic promotion, but also seven points clear of seventh-placed Scunthorpe United. There are many games that you could look back on over the course of the past nine months with regards to chances missed, but instead of doing that, let’s have a look back at the season in statistics and celebrate the remarkable achievement of all involved.
24 wins contributed towards that points haul; whilst champions Wigan Athletic and third-placed Walsall won the same amount, only runners-up Burton Albion won more (25). Just nine draws mean that the Lions chart fourth-lowest in that aspect, whilst only Wigan, Burton, Walsall and Bradford lost less than Harris’ charges (13).
Only the champions and Peterborough United scored more goals across the year (Millwall scored 73), whilst only four teams had a better defence than the Lions (49 conceded) – quite remarkable when you take the early season form into account.
Having spent the last few years towards the bottom of the table, Lions fans could be forgiven for bypassing the top half when viewing their Sunday morning papers, but this year, Millwall were in the bottom four for just seven days, whilst 117 were spent in the top six.
Harris’ men never entered the top two over the course of the year, instead spending most of their time in fifth position – 49 days were spent there. Despite finishing fourth, the Lions occupied that slot for just 18 days of the season. As well as the top two, 16th, 20th, 22nd, 23rd and 24th went unoccupied from the first whistle to last.
Gregory’s 25 goals in all competitions made him Millwall’s most successful goalscorer since Steve Morison in the 2009/10 season – Morison himself weighed in with 18; the most fruitful partnership since Harris and Paul Moody shared 42 between them in 2000/01.
4-0 proved to be a landmark score-line over the course of 2015/16 – the club’s biggest defeat (against Coventry City in the opening home league game) and biggest victory (at Southend United on December 28) both produced the same outcome.
The last home game against Oldham Athletic saw the biggest Den attendance of the campaign (12,419), although just 7,567 fans turned up to the game with Barnsley on August 18, making that the lowest crowd of the year.
A huge 55 games have been played by the Lions so far this year (there are definitely two more to come – perhaps three!) – 46 of those have been in the league, whilst of the other nine, six were played in the club’s run to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Southern Section Final, with two coming in the FA Cup and the other being a solitary appearance in the Capital One Cup, where Barnet defeated the Lions 2-1.
Of those 55 games, Morison has been involved the most, playing in a hugely respectable 54 of them. Mark Beevers, Lee Gregory and Aiden O’Brien made 50 appearances over the course of the year, whilst Byron Webster and Jordan Archer were two more mainstays of the side, playing 48 and 46 times respectively.
At the other end of the scale, Noah Chesmain featured just once, with Jack Powell’s three and Paris Cowan-Hall’s six appearances ensuring they languish at the bottom of the pile.
And so to the play-offs. A two-legged affair with Bradford City would not be the first choice for the majority of Lions fans, but you cannot choose your opponents – you have to beat what is put in front of you.
Both games during the regular season were a war of attrition; Tony Craig’s injury in the home game is testament to that. Both sides are quite similar, too – they set up in the same way, have knowledgeable, well-respected managers and are able to mix it physically when the need arises.
If you were to ask me, I believe that the winner of this tie will win the play-offs outright. But, as far as choosing the winner of the semi-final goes, I wouldn’t like to guess. I wouldn’t be surprised if it went all the way to penalties at The Den next Friday. Here’s hoping the nerves can handle that, should it happen.
My last blog of the season will be in a fortnight – let’s hope I’m talking to you as play-off finalists!