After setting sail from the port of League One last season, Admiral Neil Harris and his trusted Commodore David Livermore are on their maiden voyage into the open waters of the Championship. Getting across this vast ocean in one piece and surviving the campaign is the primary objective, although there have been signs from our naval officers that the journey may not be as hazardous as originally thought. This isn’t due to just calm waters when we were expecting the perfect storm, more so expert steering and not just putting our vessel on cruise control. Stops at the ports of Nottingham Forest, Ipswich, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Barnsley have caused damage to our ship, however our trusty sea dogs have banded together and kept the sails open and rowed with all their effort to victories against the likes of Reading, Leeds United and Norwich City. However, these brave efforts have caused damage to our cargo and Millwall are now in a situation where we are looking at our reserve stock and reliable old parts to keep the expedition on course. This article looks at what parts of the craft need the most work and if we will continue to sail towards the land of Championship safety.
Last season, Millwall were blessed with two outstanding young goalkeepers in both Tom King and Jordan Archer. David Forde had jumped overboard and joined Pompey on loan, before this season finding a lifeboat and rowing towards the obscure, yet safe destination of League Two football at Cambridge United. Although they had played many games between them in a promotion winning season, there were still question marks over whether Archer and King would be daunted and out of their depth at Championship level. A shaky start by Archer which involved a poor display against Ipswich had many Millwall fans asking whether an albatross was around the neck of our Ancient Mariner in the number one jersey. An old head was suggested by the Millwall fans and after Archer re-discovered his excellent form, which also resulted in an International call up for Scotland, free agent and experienced goalkeeper David Martin was brought in to the fray. Martin was not brought in as a replacement for Archer or King, but as the journeyman who could share his knowledge and help our keepers up in the crow’s nest look around the field to help direct the ship.
More depth needed? No – a wonderful combination of youth, natural born talent and experience will not leave Harris or Livermore sleepless in their bunks.
Tony Craig, Mahlon Romeo, Shaun Hutchinson, Jake Cooper, Byron Webster. Add into the mix the highly talented Shane Ferguson who could play at left back, as well as the ever-enthusiastic cabin boy Sid Nelson and the HMS Millwall had a back line that were formidable at League One level. A mixture of calm, knowledge, skill, tough-tackling, never intimidated and unbeatable in the air, these were members of our crew who did not stop shovelling the coal into the engines, working tirelessly and often overlooked behind the scenes when our ship was on course for promotion and play-off final success against Bradford City. James Meredith decided to abandon his sinking ship from Yorkshire and hitched a ride, becoming an ever-present at left back in place of our crew deck captain, Tony Craig. Conor McLaughlin decided to swing on deck also and has also dislodged the impressive Mahlon Romeo and both he and Meredith are naturals at this level. Unfortunately, Byron Webster has met with the ship’s doctor who has informed the centre back he must spend the rest of the trip below deck. Once we arrive at our destination, Admiral Harris will need to sit with him and decide whether to set sail with him again or whether to leave Webster behind for the next ship to pick him up.
More depth needed? Yes – Webster is a big loss although Cooper is a more than capable replacement. I am unsure whether Craig has it in him to play centre-back at Championship level, considering at League One he seemed to struggle there. Shaun Williams now no longer seen as an option at centre defence due to what he offers to the midfield. A centre back is desperately needed in January.
When our Admiral advertised for crew men to join him when he raised the anchor, he made sure that George Saville, Jed Wallace and Ryan Tunicliffe signed up and were all hands-on deck for this season. Having these three players onboard and forming wonderful partnerships with the likes of Shaun Williams and Aiden O’Brien ensured that we had a team that was more than good enough to confront any pirates who tried to take over our liner. Jimmy Abdou was a player who was offered a year’s extension to his current deal, only for him to walk the plank and ride the sea current to AFC Wimbledon; and while he had an impressive run in League One, Ben Thompson is yet to feature and is down in the ship’s kitchen peeling potatoes while he awaits his chance. Loading the cannons and successfully firing against the likes of Leeds United, Norwich City and Reading, the Millwall midfield are the crew men who are really pulling the ropes on our sails, reading where the wind is coming from and directing us on our way. If they keep performing like this, they will not be left behind on a desert island with a bottle of rum and a single bullet.
More depth needed? Yes and No – Shaun Williams is a huge loss at the moment and like with Byron Webster, his absence has been noticeable so far. Although, all we need is for the likes of Ben Thompson or Ryan Tunicliffe to step up and take the game by the scruff of the neck and show what they can really do. Depending on the length of time Williams is out for, perhaps Millwall may not need to invest in the January window.
Steve Morison and Lee Gregory were arguably the two best forwards in League One last year. Constant threats and their playing styles complimented each other perfectly. Morison was the reliable naval man who had the Admiral’s complete trust, could hold the ball up well and when he filled the cannon on his right foot with gun powder would regularly find the back of the net. Gregory was lively, played off the shoulder of the last man like a loyal parrot on a pirate’s shoulder and was deadly. If he wasn’t able to load his cannon, he had a pistol hidden that he would unleash from nowhere and destroy the opposition. The arrival of Tom Elliott from AFC Wimbledon has been a great piece of recruitment, with Elliott scoring in both the League and League Cup already this season. Unfortunately for The Lions, injuries and suspensions have not helped our front line and our gun barrels now have very long fuses that are taking a while to fire.
More depth needed? Yes – a stomach tear to Morison and a stop/start beginning to Elliott’s Millwall career has not helped either. Although talented, Gregory needs to be more clinical at this level and Fred Onyedinma needs to be more consistent to nail down a regular starting place. A 15-20 goal season striker at Championship level is worth multi-millions these days, so maybe dropping his anchor and looking around the rock pools of League One and League Two may be where Harris looks.
Conclusion: Millwall’s current position, I believe, is a false one and our performances have suggested we should be a lot higher than we currently are. We appear to be slightly light at the moment in certain positions and all it will take is for one or two more injuries and suspensions that will cause us all to debate manning the lifeboats and trying our luck with the depleted crew we will have left. However, I do think we will come across this vast sea just fine. If Neil Harris was the captain of the Titanic in 1912, then the doomed liner would have still entered the Iceberg field, but would’ve come through unscathed.