There’s been a huge turnaround at The Den since Gary Rowett replaced Neil Harris as Millwall boss at the end of October.
Rowett’s first game in charge, a 2-0 win over Stoke City, was the beginning of an incredible run of form which has seen the Lions lose only twice in the last 15 league games (away to Reading and home to Barnsley).
Millwall, with all that comes with their name and in-your-face tactics, were not a fashionable side under Harris and for much of the time the direct long-ball approach worked.
It wasn’t to say the players didn’t possess technical ability; they were merely playing a set-up that didn’t allow for it but Rowett’s appointment has helped draw out both tactical nuance and flexibility.
Not only is it impressive how quickly the side have responded to Rowett’s methods, producing a much more attractive brand of football but the psychological approach has also been equally remarkable.
Despite Rowett taking over a side sitting 16th in the table, the 45-year-old quickly told fans and media alike he was less worried about any potential relegation battle but more concerned with closing the gap on the top six.
Such is his belief and nurturing mindset that many of his squad have instantly improved under him as he has gone about instilling a self-confidence which perhaps wasn’t always there under Harris.
Players are – by no means – exempt from criticism, but Rowett appears to provide seemingly more constructive views than his predecessor and perhaps with hindsight Harris had all the tools at his disposal but simply didn’t know how best to utilise them.
Connor Mahoney, in particular, having struggled to impress under the old regime has been a key impact substitute in recent weeks, providing a goal and assist against Luton and was crucial for Millwall’s opener against Reading last weekend.
But it’s not just fringe players that have seen improvements.
Mainstays such as Murray Wallace, Jake Cooper and Jed Wallace have also performed better with the latter’s five goals and seven assists under Rowett propelling him to the top of the Championship charts.
The change in mindset has been fundamental in helping Rowett tactically, providing flexibility depending on specific opponents. By comparison, any formational changes under Harris simply masked the side’s overall tactical constraints.
With Harris at the helm, the players appeared almost convinced they weren’t good enough to play a passing game resulting in long ball football remaining the only weapon of choice for Millwall regardless of any apparent formation changes.
Under Rowett the Lions still look to go direct at times – but it is no longer their only option, which is the crucial difference.
For instance, when Rowett plays a 5-2-3 (Millwall’s typical away formation), this clearly stems from analytical research on their opponents with the Lions aiming to press high and win the ball back in key areas.
Players will burst forward from midfield and wide areas to try to create chances of their own while the three central defenders provide a strong block when the opposition beat the initial press.
Meanwhile, employing a 4-4-2 will usually see Matt Smith and Tom Bradshaw deployed up front together, pressing high up the pitch and looking to go more direct.
Two solid banks of four still make the Lions hard to beat, whilst giving them plenty of opportunities to deliver quality crosses – which Smith, particularly, thrives upon.
This tactical flexibility will only serve Millwall better in the coming weeks and months as each and every player becomes more adept at their individual role which can only bode well as the business end of the season fast approaches.
Nevertheless it’s been a hugely impressive start to life under the new regime with Rowett appearing to have quickly found a perfect fit in South London and providing Millwall fans with a reason to dare to dream.