Millwall Season Preview: promotion drama

Millwall’s promotion last season was by no means a given. In fact, their fate was settled by two 85th minute winners: one to sneak into the play-offs on the final day, another to defeat Bradford at Wembley. Was it spirit and bravery at key moments that got them over the line? Supporter Andrew Strachan has his say.

I think that’s fair. The squad definitely seemed to exude a confidence that they would do it, despite the odds being against them toward the end. They were very strong for most of the season though and just a wobble toward the end with the distraction of the FA Cup matches against Leicester and Spurs.  Once they were in the playoffs, I had little doubt they would finish the job this time.

You looked a threat from Jed Wallace’s crosses and Shaun Williams’ set pieces, with Steve Morison often the target. With Wallace signed permanently, will this be one of your main strengths?

I think our attack will probably be our greatest weakness this season, and we either need another forward, or Aiden O’Brien needs to completely fulfil the potential he’s shown.  Defensively we were very strong for most of the season, and the end of season results were blips rather than indicative.  If we’re going to succeed this season, it’s going to be  through keeping matches close and nicking it rather than an all guns blazing attack.

Former manager Kenny Jackett hinted that O’Brien should be used as a striker, rather than out wide. If that’s the case, is a natural left-winger needed? 

You know I’m never going to disagree with Kenny. If he suggested playing our keeper up front I’d be on board with it.  A natural left-winger would be ideal, but Harris can’t break up the Gregory/Morison partnership while it keeps performing the way it has, and O’Brien is too good to only be used in rotation, so having him out wide is the best solution we have.  It’s a role he performs very well and without public complaint, even if it’s not his preferred or strongest position.  Now that the will-he/wont-he saga is over with Fred Onyedinma, there’s an opportunity for him to play this sort of role as well.

Starting two advanced strikers worked for you in League One. Do you worry that more intelligent teams will play through them and then expose gaps in midfield? 

Not really.  I think Morison and Gregory showed good awareness all season, and the midfield is strong enough to provide cover.  I am concerned that they might not be good enough for the Championship though.  Morison surely can’t keep playing every minute of every match, and Gregory…….. *puts hands up and walks away from computer*

You’ve signed two full-backs, Conor McLaughlin and James Meredith, who performed well in League One last season with the licence to attack. Will they be doing more defensive work this year?

Not at all.  They should provide an excellent balance with our more defensively minded players, and get the counter-attack rolling. I’m quite excited to see what Harris does with them.

Harris was criticized for showing too much loyalty to Jordan Archer. Was Tom King unlucky not to get more than 10 starts last year? 

I don’t think so.  Archer was far-and-away our best player the previous season, and it was only fair that Harris stuck by him.  King did an excellent job filling in though, and I’m glad he seems to have secured himself the back-up role for this season.  If he had to come in, I wouldn’t be too concerned.

Byron Webster looked outstanding in the play-offs. Who do you see as his most likely centre-back partner this term?

I’m glad I’ve waited so long to answer these questions now – Jake Cooper!

You’ve signed George Saville on a permanent deal this summer and are reportedly after Southend’s Ryan Leonard. Where does this leave Ben Thompson?  

Leonard doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, and Harris seems to have a lot of faith in Thompson.  I think he’ll be given a lot of opportunity, but Harris doesn’t want to put too much pressure on him to immediately succeed in the Championship.

What are your thoughts ahead of the League One season as a whole? Which are the three teams you’d hope to finish above?

I’m delighted to be out of League One, with its never-ending tour of crap Northern towns.  I haven’t felt this excited about a season since our first couple of seasons in the Championship under Jackett.  What Harris has done with this club after the shower-of-shit he inherited from Holloway is nothing short of incredible.  I think the vast majority of our fanbase is really excited about the moves we’ve made this off-season, and we’re going to surprise a few people.  What Harris has put together is undoubtedly a gamble though, and if it doesn’t work out for whatever reason and we end up going down, I really hope that Harris stays in the job.

Where will you finish?

Call me crazy, call me a dreamer, but I’m going full optimist here…..16th.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

Millwall won promotion last season largely based on aggression, power and Williams’ deliveries for Morison, but they could struggle against tactically better rounded sides. Harris, who manages permanently at this level for the first time, is now at a budgetary disadvantage. As an old-school team, the Lions could struggle to survive in a modernizing division. 24th

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