So, after a long (and most welcome) break, here we are again.
After relegation from the Championship last season, Millwall Football Club will begin life in League One with a trip to Shrewsbury Town on August 8th, before home ties with Barnet (in the Capital One Cup), Coventry City and Barnsley respectively.
For all concerned with the Lions, the new campaign presents new opportunities and new beginnings. Over the summer, a mass departure from SE16 took place, with nearly two teams full of players exiting The Den, clearing the decks for the future to shine.
Out went the wastes of wages, such as Stefan Maierhofer, Justin Hoyte and Ricardo Fuller and through came the likes of Fred Onyedinma, Ben Thompson and Jamie Philpott – young, talented and hungry players, chomping at the bit for first-team football.
With Neil Harris taking permanent charge, assisted by Dave Livermore, there is also a chance for a new beginning amongst the management, as well as the playing side of things. At the back end of last season, Harris and Livermore re-introduced ‘the Millwall way’ to proceedings, with fruitful results. With the future of the club on the field now solely in their hands, it will be interesting to see how they approach life in the third tier.
The mood and expectations among some supporters is that the club should accept no less than challenging at the right end of the table come next May. However, the realists among us will know that that will more than likely not be the case. The Lions are starting from scratch – the fact that the number of graduates involved in pre-season friendlies has reached double figures is proof of that. Whilst I have no doubt in my mind that the youth will adapt to League One football, they do not and will not have the experience, know-how and guile to challenge at the top end of the table.
The squad does have some older heads in it, such as David Forde, but the majority is untried and untested for a long, arduous season. Furthermore, ask yourself this; if Millwall were to achieve promotion back to the Championship at the first attempt, would they be well equipped to stabilise themselves in the second tier? I think not.
The aim for the coming campaign should be to let the dust settle on the disastrous last two or three seasons, allow the younger members of the team to settle in to first-team football week in, week out and to sort out the home form. If that means that we finish in the middle of the table and that the season is over by the end of March, then so be it. The last thing this squad needs is another battle at either end of the table – it is stretched enough as it is already.
In other news, they say that you should never go back, but, for me, the capture of Tony Craig is a most welcome one. In a time where the Millwall spirit is badly needed, ‘TC’ will ooze it in abundance, as well as being a shining example to the younger members of the squad. The decision to hand him the captains armband is a complete no-brainer, too. Welcome back, Tony.
Craig is one of a few signings made this summer by Harris, but we are still quite short in a few positions. Joe Martin is the only recognised left-back at the club, so that will need addressing, whilst we still seem to lack genuine pace and quality on the wings. Of course, the Achilles’ Heel of Millwall Football Club continues to strike, also, with (at the time of writing) just two fit strikers available in Lee Gregory and John Marquis.
It was a huge shame that the James Hanson fell at the final hurdle – his presence and intelligence would’ve benefited the team massively up front, but apart from that, it seems to be all pretty quiet on the striker front.
Before the unfortunate injury to Aiden O’Brien, one man – a target man – was needed. However, now, the Lions need two strikers to assist Gregory and Marquis. Jamie Philpott and Alfie Pavey will no doubt be ready to step up to the plate if needed, but the lack of power and punch up front is a concern. Lee Gregory will score goals in League One, but only if he has someone to take the weight off of his shoulders alongside him.
But, if there’s one man who I trust to know the best interests of Millwall’s striking department, it’s Neil Harris. The boss will do what is right for the club.
The League One season is just around the corner. So is a new beginning for Millwall Football Club.