This season represents the final year of Gary Rowett’s three-year plan for Millwall to reach the Championship Play-Offs with an exciting summer transfer window bringing renewed hope it can now come to fruition.
Going into the summer, the Lions knew they faced a make or break rebuild, losing nine of last year’s squad with the attacking force of loanees Oli Burke, Benik Afobe and Sheyi Ojo all returning to their parent clubs.
Add to that the seismic impact of talisman Jed Wallace’s free transfer to West Bromwich Albion, Millwall’s attack was in need of major restructuring.
Elsewhere, the departures of Alex Pearce and Daniel Ballard meant the defence was also in need of reinforcements and, while Maikel Kieftenbeld and Connor Mahoney’s exits may not be too concerning, it still means the overall squad is light on numbers.
In going about their rebuild, Millwall’s ambition has been clearly on display, changing their recruitment approach to splash the cash where needed.
Highly-rated Zian Flemming has been brought in as a record signing from the Dutch side Fortuna Sittard, entering The Den promising goals and continental flair while at 6”1’ maintaining the physicality that suits a Millwall crowd.
Alongside the 23-year-old, George Honeyman arrives from Hull City and is already laying the groundwork for a Player of the Season award with impressive and hard-working displays during pre-season.
While these two signings look set to address Wallace’s departure it will nevertheless be hard to tell just how much impact they can have replacing the significant output seen from Wallace season after season.
Elsewhere, the addition of Leeds duo Charlie Cresswell and Jamie Shackleton are other shrewd pieces of business.
The highly-regarded Cresswell is a regular England U21 player whose excellent ball progression and physicality should match that of the outgoing Ballard, who joined Sunderland permanently following his loan stint with the Lions last term.
Shackleton’s arrival is perhaps even better business – the 22-year-old adept in central midfield or right-back to offer versatility, ball carrying and technical capabilities to the squad.
Despite not quite making the grade for Leeds in the Premier League, there is no doubt Shackleton has a lot of development left in him.
Crucially, Millwall have included an option to make the deal permanent, should the move be successful as they look to learn the lessons of the Ballard and Jayson Molumby loans, and are now starting to secure high value assets who could be sold on in future.
The final addition to the squad saw the return of forward Benik Afobe. It looked as though Millwall had missed out on re-signing the frontman, but a collapse of his move to Club Brugge saw him link back up with his former teammates during their pre-season camp in Ireland.
Afobe finished as top scorer last season (12 goals) and fans will hope he can build on his late season form this campaign while it looks like youngsters Issac Olaofe (fresh from a second stint at Sutton) and Besart Topalloj, may have a chance to make the step-up into the first-team.
This season will also be a big one for Tyler Burey – the 21-year-old showing glimpses of his quality on his return from injury last year and getting Millwall fans off their seats.
There’s no doubt Millwall have recruited well and focussed on improving the right areas, however, there is still some doubt as to whether they have done quite enough to elevate the side.
Millwall’s biggest problem over the past two seasons has been creating chances and with Wallace as the side’s main creative output, the numbers he single-handedly developed will still be hard to replicate.
The additions to the squad may be promising, but fans will still have to manage expectations given the squad turnover while there also isn’t anyone who appears to be the main creative focal point, leaving fears for a blunt attack which haven’t been helped by the final pre-season displays.
However, if Millwall can get one or two more through the door, they may just elevate their chances of a top six finish. It’s not impossible this side can reach the Play-Offs, but it won’t be easy.
LFS Verdict: 8th