After the final home game defeat against Bristol City last season, Millwall boss Neil Harris launched a scathing attack on his players, promising a squad overhaul in the summer.
Harris admitted the level of performance from some of the players was ‘nowhere good enough’ and promised to be ‘ruthless’ in order to get a wholehearted never-say-die attitude back into the club.
The personnel may now be different, but has Millwall’s approach really changed under Harris so far this campaign?
Last season saw quality hard to come by as the Lions struggled to build on a relatively positive start that saw them pick up five points from their first three Championship matches.
With George Saville’s departure to Middlesbrough, Millwall often lacked energy in midfield, leaving the defence too open to opposition attacks and the forward line isolated.
However, Ben Thompson’s January recall from a loan stint at Portsmouth provided a much-needed spark whilst also giving Harris the option of playing a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation.
Thompson is now one of the first names on the team sheet – even in a 4-4-2 which has been employed throughout pre-season and in the opening day win over Preston North End.
The 23-year-old is exactly what Harris and the Millwall faithful have been craving with his blend of quality and local passion meaning he has quickly become the ‘poster boy’ fans can truly relate to.
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Harris has also made no secret of the fact he will set-up his team in different ways this season in order to win different games and will refuse to accept players disrespecting his decisions.
He has previously been criticised for being too loyal to certain players, but with a stronger squad he has no excuses this time out.
There have also been tweaks to the system employed – the Lions deploying a 4-4-2 formation against Preston before reverting to a 4-5-1 away to West Bromwich Albion to counter the Baggies’ midfield strength.
And so far it’s worked as the Lions have taken four points from their opening two league games with the adaptability shown something fans were less familiar with last season.
All four of Millwall’s forwards have also already been involved, once again demonstrating how Harris is prepared to utilise the whole squad and set-up differently according to the opposition and each striker’s individual strengths.
Millwall’s equaliser on Saturday against WBA came from Jed Wallace’s cross causing havoc in the 18 yard box, with Wallace previously criticised for a poor end product.
Harris has also previously alluded to this problem and, with Connor Mahoney and Jiri Skalak challenging for his place, it is testament to Wallace he has been prepared to work on his delivery during pre-season.
The summer signings also seem to have given the winger a new lease of life in SE16 while now being fully fit, as opposed to playing with niggles for long spells last season, has also clearly helped.
In the past, Harris has spoken about ‘being a certain type of player’ to make it at The Den and it is clear from Wallace’s attitude as well as the goal celebrations at West Brom last Saturday for Millwall’s equaliser that every player now cares and has a will to win.
In terms of overall quality, things are clearly on the up and there is a big difference to the struggles of last season.
Of course, Millwall are still unlikely to challenge for a Play-Off spot this season but one thing is certain, Neil Harris’ quiet revolution is the real deal.