The 2021/22 season marks the second full year of Gary Rowett’s three-year plan to guide Millwall into the Play-Offs and the Lions will have their sights firmly on the top six in a Championship campaign that promises to be as unpredictable as ever.
Last season was defined by an empty Den and a full treatment room with Rowett’s first full campaign in charge overshadowed by a lack of time to prepare and continuous injuries that eventually caused Millwall to stutter their way to an eleventh place finish.
This time around there is a different feel in SE16 as transfer business has been done early, adding quality in key areas to a healthy squad alongside a fanbase chomping at the bit to get back into the stands.
It was impossible to ignore the lack of a genuine goal threat last season with loan signings Troy Parrott and Kenneth Zohore under-delivering due to injury and mustering just two league goals between them.
However, the arrival of Benik Afobe on loan from Stoke City brings excitement and a new dimension to the Lions’ front line.
The 28-year-old is someone who has been there and done it at Championship level but nevertheless may still feel he has something to prove on his return from a loan stint at Turkish Super Lig side Trabzonspor.
Worryingly, Afobe arrives with a history of injuries that has kept him from being the top level striker he has always promised to be, but if he can keep fit and hit the ground running, his goals may be the difference.
At the other end, Daniel Ballard brings much-needed depth and youth to an aging backline that showed cracks on too many occasions last year.
The highly-rated Arsenal loanee was a standout in Blackpool’s League One promotion campaign and looks ready for the step up after impressing on international duty with Northern Ireland.
Perhaps the most exciting addition though is the return of fan favourite George Saville from Middlesbrough.
The 28-year-old set the Den alight back in the 2017/18 season and was pivotal as the Lions fell just short of the Play-Offs with Millwall fans hoping he can pick up where he left off.
However, it isn’t just the new arrivals that will have the home crowd excited with this season potentially being a breakout year for a number of academy graduates.
Billy Mitchell showed glimpses of what he could do last term before a severe hamstring tear hampered his progress but the young midfielder has already been earmarked as a future club captain
Similarly, Danny McNamara will be eager to impress in his first full season with the first-team after returning to the club in January after a successful loan spell at St Johnstone and could provide serious competition for long standing right-back Mahlon Romeo.
Despite the positive mood as the season opener draws closer, there is one thing that could end up looming large over Millwall’s season: Jed Wallace’s contract.
Wallace is undoubtedly Millwall’s best and most influential player, contributing 39 goals and assists over the last two seasons.
The club are yet to secure his future and there is a risk this could be Wallace’s last season at the Den before leaving next summer as a free agent.
Hopefully, the club’s ambition and performance this season will play a part in convincing him to stay and sign a new deal.
However, should the season not go to plan, Millwall could find themselves having to replace their key man without profiting from any sale.
In truth, the excitement of new signings, hot prospects and Play-Off dreams are nothing compared to the biggest boost Millwall will receive this season.
After 31 games and almost 18 months, fans will be back in their seats and no team in the Championship will benefit more than Millwall.
Last season was the first time the Lions failed to win more games at home than away in almost a decade.
The Den lacked its fear factor and Millwall’s drawing streak was confounded by their inability to hold onto a lead and to take late chances. With a full Den behind them, surely that will change?
With the squad and club in good shape in a post-pandemic world, there’s plenty of optimism for the long-term future but arguably the Lions are perhaps still lacking in some key areas.
It may mean they fall just short this time around before being well placed for Rowett’s all important third year aim…
LFS Verdict: 7th