It’s fair to say that 2015 has been a year of two halves for Millwall Football Club.
As we all know, the year began in dire circumstances, with the Lions in relegation zone of the Championship – which they would not get out of for the rest of the campaign – and Ian Holloway in charge; a man with seemingly no clue on what he was doing.
An embarrassing FA Cup defeat at Bradford (in which the prospect of a trip to Chelsea was on the line) was followed up with defeat after defeat and eventually, Holloway was given the boot after a simply disastrous 4-1 loss at home to Norwich City, in which the former manager spent half of in the back of the dugout, afraid to come out and face the wrath of the Den faithful.
Neil Harris and David Livermore took temporary charge from the game with Bolton on March 14th until the end of the season and, despite being in the hot-seat when relegation to League One was confirmed, turned the fortunes of the Lions around, with some gritty and gutsy displays – especially against the likes of Brentford, Charlton Athletic and fellow strugglers, Wigan.
The clear-out of deadwood that was so desperately needed for two or three years took place in the summer and the squad was dramatically streamlined, before a trip to Shrewsbury Town began life in the third tier on August 8th.
Three points on that day raised expectations, but four straight home defeats after that sent the pessimists into overdrive once more. Since then, the catastrophe at home to Gillingham aside, Millwall have held their own in the division and go into Christmas three points off the play-offs, with a game in hand.
On the subject of the Gillingham game, yes, we were awful, but extract that from the memory for a moment and look at the bigger picture. Compare and contrast the Millwall that you see now from the club that you saw lose 4-0 to Bradford etc. Much better, isn’t it?
I think it’s worth reiterating again that this season is a re-building one. If you are of the belief that anything but promotion back to the Championship is a disaster, then you are going to be extremely disappointed come the end of the campaign in May.
Whilst there are players capable of playing at a higher level in the team – Steve Morison, Shaun Williams etc – most of the side is raw and untested. Neil Harris has begun to create stars out of the likes of Aiden O’Brien, but because someone has been in form for a few months, that does not mean that they are automatically capable of doing the same week in, week out at a higher level.
Until those kinds of players have a couple of seasons of experience under their belts, you cannot expect them to produce the same quality in the Championship or higher. O’Brien’s current form, which has seen him miss chance after chance and become anonymous in most games, could prompt some to say that he has been a ‘flash in the pan’ – we will just have to be patient and give these players time.
I am firmly of the belief that Harris will eventually be the man to lead us back up to the Championship – that just won’t happen yet. You’ve only got to look at the way he has turned some players round to display his man-management skills and know-how – something the previous regime so crucially lacked.
Byron Webster; a walking disaster under Holloway, but now, he has produced some towering performances of the highest quality and in my mind, is the most improved player of 2015. Going back to O’Brien; a bit-part player before, but now a mainstay in the team and probably Millwall’s most valuable asset at the moment. Lee Gregory is another one, but that’s already been done to death. Shane Ferguson; a cracking loan signing that has flourished, having been played in his natural position – where would he have fitted in the Holloway’s useless 4-2-3-1 system? His loan/short-term signings consisted of signing Stefan Maierhofer – twice!
Jordan Archer is another example. A goalkeeper not given a chance under the stewardship of the ex-boss has become one of the best stoppers outside the Premier League in the second half of the year.
For everyone currently moaning, just remember what it was like at the beginning of 2015. The club is picking itself off of its knees and has had a very good second half to the year. Let’s hope the first half of 2016 is the same.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone – thanks for your continued readership – and I’ll see you in 2016.