Millwall started the 2020/21 campaign aiming for a top six finish and while this may not have been achieved, a second successive top half Championship finish proves they are on the right track.
Early promise saw the Lions rise to fourth in the table after an impressive 2-0 win at Preston North End in October, but Gary Rowett’s men followed that up with a winless run lasting until mid-December as injuries built up and coronavirus took its toll on the coaching staff.
Millwall simply didn’t have the squad depth to compete with injuries to the likes of Kenneth Zohore, Connor Mahoney, Jake Cooper and Mahlon Romeo, to name just a few.
Fans returned in the middle of that run but couldn’t guide their team to victory in either home match against Derby or QPR – the latter seeing the adoption of a new anti-discrimination gesture following objections from some supporters over the players’ desire to take a knee.
Millwall increasingly looked like a team short on confidence following the away win at Bristol City before their Christmas fixtures were suspended after eight players tested positive for Covid-19.
On resumption, a 3-1 defeat at Nottingham Forest was one of their worst displays under Rowett, a performance which resulted in a shift to a 5-3-2 formation that went on to see the Lions embark on a nine-match unbeaten league run.
Injuries once more took their toll in heavy defeats to Swansea City and AFC Bournemouth, although the 4-1 win over Bristol City in the final home game of the campaign perhaps provided a glimpse at how Rowett wants his team to play moving forward with a few summer additions.
The less said about last weekend’s 6-1 defeat at Coventry City the better, it was an anomaly for an otherwise resolute side but will undoubtedly leave a bitter taste to brew on over the summer.
Finishing 11th instead of challenging for the top-six is a disappointment but it is worth remembering Millwall were twice hit hard by Covid-19 and Rowett didn’t have a fully fit squad to choose from at any point this season.
When you consider everything the Lions have had to deal with – and the fact that they only paid one upfront transfer fee this season – it’s impressive they still managed to establish themselves as a top-half side.
Furthermore, their home form has suffered more than most without fans – the Lions ranking 16th in the home form table, but an impressive 10th away from home, proving Millwall’s fans win them so many points in tight matches.
That influence cannot be underestimated and will surely bring a positive boost when fans return as expected next season.
Nevertheless, Millwall still lacked quality at key moments, particularly in attack with the likes of Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and loanee Troy Parrott squandering numerous chances and netting just one league goal between them.
It’s the absence of these quality moments that means Millwall ended the season with a league-high 17 draws – they couldn’t edge past teams in those tight games.
Had West Bromwich Albion loanee Zohore been fit all season, it may have been a different story – but either way Millwall need to add a striker capable of scoring 10-15 goals this summer.
Indeed, with Rowett probably needing five or six signings overall – with a deal for the impressive Scott Malone almost tied up already – it could be an exciting summer for the south Londoners.
Changing the mentality around the club has been key with predecessor Neil Harris seemingly content to make up the numbers at this level – which is far from the case with Rowett.
At his request, the club are making a number of improvements over the summer – including to the training ground – and he is likely to be backed in the transfer window to add the finishing touches to what is, at its core, a good Championship team.
They have already added signings that wouldn’t have happened under Harris, and there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful going into the summer.
Taking this team to the next level will be the hardest step, but it’s one Rowett is keen to embrace and, with fans back in attendance, next season is looking positive.