Thanks to the last month, things are beginning to look up in SE16. A near disastrous August, in which Millwall Football Club lost all their home games and took just four points from a possible 15, left Lions fans down in the dumps at the prospect of yet another season battling relegation.
However, the month of September has seen Neil Harris’ men kick-start their season in style, with the unbeaten away record remaining in tact, along with the holy grail of a home win being captured against Rochdale on the 19th.
Along with the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy win over Saturday’s opponents, Peterborough United, the Lions have taken ten points from a possible 15 in September – the last time they had such a fruitful month was at the beginning of last season; over a year ago.
Statistically, the club do not well in September. The statisticians among us will know that the ninth month of the year is usually the month for Millwall to receive their annual thumping – last season aside, for four seasons running, heavy defeats were handed out (13/14 Derby (1-5), 12/13 Hull (1-4), 11/12 Wolves (0-5) and 10/11 Watford (1-6)) – although, you could say that the 4-0 defeat to Coventry City in August could count!
So, what has changed? How has the same Millwall side that couldn’t buy a win in August (Shrewsbury aside) become near unbeatable in September?
I’ve personally noticed a change in character in the side. Not just in individual players, but the team as a whole. You could easily look at individuals, such as Shaun Williams, who has looked the part once again since coming back into the side from being dropped, or Aiden O’Brien, who has given the team extra energy in the final third since returning from injury but, as a whole, the character of the team has grown – it’s become more ‘Millwall’.
Take the win at Port Vale, for instance. After the victory over Crewe, unbeaten at home Vale provided the next test for Neil Harris’ charges. The Lions swept them aside, winning 2-0, but it was the manner of the victory that provided the joy. Reports from both ends suggested that Millwall were the best side Vale had played in quite a while, whilst the Lions could have had a 6-0 lead by half-time, if it wasn’t for the heroics of the opposition keeper.
Contrast that with last season under Ian Holloway, or even as recently as the Coventry, Barnsley and Chesterfield home games, and you will see what I mean about a change in character.
Secondly, the goals have been shared around the team, which is a vital ingredient to a successful side. We are just two months into the season, but there have been as many as seven different scorers in the league (Morison, Gregory, Onyedinma, Williams, O’Brien, Beevers & Abdou) – a far cry from the Holloway era. A stat from @ThisIsMillwall on Twitter tells you all you need to know about the change in tactics from era to era – in 36 games last season, the Lions scored just 25 goals under the previous regime; in 20 games under Neil Harris, Millwall have already scored 23.
Squad rotation has also played its part in the resurgence. The return of the likes of O’Brien has allowed Harris to freshen up the front two, whilst the injuries to Shaun Cummings and Sid Nelson has allowed Carlos Edwards and Byron Webster to come back into the side. On the subject of Webster, I finally lost my patience with him after the Coventry debacle, but in the last few games, he has eventually begun to show why he was so highly regarded at Yeovil. The centre-half seems to be a confidence player; whilst he has made his own catastrophic mistakes, it can’t have helped being left out in the cold for large parts of a disastrous season last year.
Those of you that follow me on Twitter (@IAmTheLitch) would have seen me call for the club to treat Fred Onyedinma with care over the last couple of weeks. An exciting player, Fred will create something out of nothing, but for the past few games, he hasn’t been producing and clearly looked like he needed a rest. I called for Ed Upson to replace Fred in the starting line-up on Tuesday night at Wigan and for him to come on in the second half, should we be chasing the game. I won’t mention what happened next, but just call me Neil…
Whilst there is a slight upturn in form, don’t forget that this is still a largely young squad and they are still learning, week by week. So is the manager.
Don’t get ahead of yourselves – one win doesn’t mean we’re bound for the play-offs, whilst one defeat won’t mean League Two football next season. Where we are now – mid-table – will do me nicely.
I’ll sign off with the same three words – stick with them.