Should Millwall Football Club win promotion from League One this season – back to the Championship at the first attempt – it would be quite the achievement.
Should they not; for the majority of The Den faithful, it won’t all be doom and gloom.
In SE16, something special is building. Under the stewardship of club legend Neil Harris, the Millwall that we all know and love is slowly returning.
Young, hungry players that know what it means to wear the shirt are thriving; teams are starting to fear The Den once more, the home form is picking up and the bond between fans and players is strong.
All those above ingredients were present during the Lions’ last two promotion seasons – 2000/01 and 2009/10. But what about the team themselves? What similarities are on show – and are there any differences?
In short, the answer to the latter is no. The current campaign is very reminiscent of the previous two successes.
In goal, the team have a goalkeeper at the top of his game in Jordan Archer. The former Spurs stopper can (and will) only get better, but right now, he is one of the best – if not the best – goalkeepers in the division.
Back at the beginning of the century, Millwall possessed a similar figure between the sticks in Tony Warner. David Forde was the same at the end of the last decade. All three were/are commanding ‘keepers, providing a calm and dominating influence between the sticks.
In front of Archer is a solid back four in Mahlon Romeo, Mark Beevers, Byron Webster and Joe Martin. A strong defence is an important cog in building a successful side and in those four, the Lions have just that – after all, they have only conceded one goal in their last six games at home.
A similar set-up was seen in the previous two campaigns, with Matt Lawrence, Sean Dyche, Stuart Nethercott and Robbie Ryan holding firm on Millwall’s march to the Division Two title back in 2001, whilst Alan Dunne, Paul Robinson, Darren Ward and Tony Craig occupied the same spots in 2010.
The midfield possesses three vital components: wide men, a ball-winner in the middle and a box-to-box man beside him.
From Paul Ifill to Chris Hackett, and from Steven Reid to Danny Schofield, wingers have always been a part of any Millwall success; this season, a mixture of Shane Ferguson, Aiden O’Brien, Jed Wallace and Chris Taylor have added to that list.
In the centre of the park; David Livermore, Jimmy Abdou and… Jimmy Abdou have complemented the likes of Tim Cahill, Liam Trotter and Ben Thompson perfectly. Whilst the former have completed double duty in defence and in attack, the latter have been given the licence to roam, start – and sometimes finish – attacks and get things ticking.
The biggest similarity in all three seasons is in attack. Back in 2001, current manager Harris raced to the top of scoring charts, netting 28 goals in a season that saw Millwall win the title. In 2010, Steve Morison hit 23 and this term Lee Gregory currently sits on the same amount.
If your star striker scores that quantity of goals in a season, chances are you’ll be hunting promotion. But alongside him, you need a grafter. You need someone that can do the dirty work and allow the main man to shine.
In all three seasons, the Lions have possessed that figure.
Lions fans will fondly remember Paul Moody 15 years ago. Six years ago; Harris himself provided the foil for Morison’s goalscoring exploits whilst in more recent times, Morison has switched roles and become the battering ram for Gregory to shine.
Don’t think that the dirty work is all they’re worth, though – Moody helped himself to seven goals that season, while Harris finished on 18 in 2010. So far, 2015/16 has seen Morison accompany Gregory’s haul with 16 strikes of his own – as important as an out and out goalscorer is – his right hand man is just as vital.
To me, it is no surprise that this current set-up is reaping the rewards. Everything I’ve just explained is testament to that.
But, if this season doesn’t end in promotion back to the second tier, do not fear.
Another year; or two, at this level will not harm whatsoever. Harris has spoken of the current crop being at the same level in their development as the side he played in in 1999/2000. That side lost in the play-offs, but went on to win the title with ease the following year.
I’m not saying that’s definitely going to happen, but I tell you what, I don’t think we’ll be far off.