Just like a teenager who has changed the difficulty level on FIFA after a tricky start, Neil Harris is making a mockery of how tough the Championship apparently is. He has taken unfancied Millwall, who let's not forget finished 6th in the third tier of English football, to within touching distance of the Championship Play-Offs and has fans dreaming of the Premier League.
The Millwall fans have been saying how Neil Harris is one of the best managers in recent times, which I agree with, and some are saying that Chopper is a better manager than club legend Kenny Jackett. This is an incredibly bold statement to make, as both managers can argue that their respective tenures at the club were better than the others, and it is amazing to see how similar their Millwall reigns have been since they took charge:
- Both managers took to the post after chaotic managerial times at the club. Jackett became Millwall manager after the turbulent appointments of Nigel Spackman and Willie Donachie, and we don't need reminding of Neil Harris' predecessors of Steve Lomas and Ian Holloway.
- Our main strikers were two players who were taken out of the non-league and initially struggled to find the back of the net. Steve Morison and Lee Gregory had fans wondering what we had signed at first, but with the belief from their two managers, our two front men went on to flourish.
- Two teams have been built that play in the 'Millwall way', although with different styles. Jackett's team was full of 'Guvnors', players who would kick, scratch, fight and claw through a battle to show they wouldn't be intimidated. Neil Harris' side plays with more pace and flair, but still can do the nasty stuff if required and the players know what is expected of them.
- After defeats in play-off finals where we conceded three goals against Scunthorpe United and Barnsley respectively, we re-grouped and were successful the following year with 1-0 victories against Swindon Town and Bradford City.
- Our first seasons back in the Championship, we have drastically exceeded expectation, and are flirting near the play-offs with only a handful of games left to go. We have never been in any real fear of relegation, even when results have not been going our way.
I can see the argument for both and although I have always said in my lifetime Kenny Jackett is one of, if not the, greatest manager I have seen at The Den, if Neil Harris does get us into the Premier League he will be more than a playing legend.
But what about their sides? A manager is only as good as their starting line-ups, so here I will compare the players from the 2010 - 2011 seasons with this year and make a best eleven from both, just to see if this will help me come to a conclusion to this argument.
*Disclaimer: I will not pick these players on their future endeavours or potential, but how they performed in the 2010 - 2011 season or have been performing so far in this campaign. I will stick with the traditional Millwall 4-4-2, and will aim for first team regulars as best as I can.
GOALKEEPER: DAVID FORDE VS. JORDAN ARCHER
Why choose David Forde?
Millwall have tended to be lucky with their goalkeepers, but David Forde was the best goalkeeper we have had since Tony Warner, and questionably the best goalkeeper we have had since the days of Kasey Keller. The confidence, leadership, belief and more importantly ability oozed from the Irishman, and he never really had any competition for the number one jersey until Archer came along.
Why choose Jordan Archer?
The young goalkeeper shows why he came through a Premier League youth system and was highly thought of by those at Tottenham Hotspur. Already a full international at the young age of just 24 years old, Archer is a phenomenal talent and his saves this season have kept Millwall in games. Being under pressure for his spot from the experienced David Martin hasn't troubled him, and Archer has been a crucial member of Millwall's back line.
RIGHT-BACK: ALAN DUNNE VS. MAHLON ROMEO
Why choose Alan Dunne?
You would not get a better full-back in the Championship in the 2010 - 2011 then Alan Dunne. Dunne was known to see red on occasions and get sent off for seemingly rash tackles, but when he switched it on Alan Dunne could've played for many clubs in the country. Composed on the ball, a passing range that you don't normally see from other defenders and the pride he had in playing for Millwall was evident.
Why choose Mahlon Romeo?
Not many young defenders who were seen as not ready for the Championship can come in and dislodge an experienced defender in Conor McLaughlin. Romeo adds pace, enthusiasm, skill and an extra option in attack and has built an amazing partnership with Jed Wallace. Romeo was seen as a potential casualty when the new players were brought in, but some man of the match performances has made him one of the first names on the team sheet.
CENTRE-BACK: PAUL ROBINSON VS. SHAUN HUTCHINSON
Why choose Paul Robinson?
Club captain and tough tackling Paul Robinson epitomised exactly what it meant to be a Millwall player. He wore his heart on his sleeve, and was very rarely beaten in the air, on the floor and in 50/50 challenges. Never intimidated by the opposition and a loyal servant of the club, Robinson was an old-school defender who formed fantastic partnerships with Darren Ward and Danny Shittu.
Why choose Shaun Hutchinson?
Hutchinson has been THE most important member of Millwall's back-line this season. When Byron Webster suffered a horrific injury early on, the Lions' fans were worried how our defenders would cope, but we needn't worry. Hutchinson has grabbed not just the defence, but the whole side by the scruff of the neck, and is a fore-runner for Millwall's player of the year this season with some outstanding displays.
CENTRE-BACK: DARREN WARD VS. JAKE COOPER
Why choose Darren Ward?
A calm and composed player who made defending look like an art form. Never hassled, very relaxed on the ball and a player who always liked to play the ball out from the back. Ward was an exceptional defender who took the transition from League One to Championship in his stride, and even managed to get a solitary goal in the 2010-2011 season.
Why choose Jake Cooper?
Millwall fans were delighted when Cooper made his loan spell from Reading to Millwall a permanent deal. Although originally seen as third choice centre-back behind Shaun Hutchinson and Byron Webster, Cooper has risen to the occasion and slotted in perfectly. A giant of a man who is strong in the air and a tough tackler, Cooper plays like a player older than his years and will still be first choice when Webster is back in contention.
LEFT-BACK: TONY CRAIG VS. JAMES MEREDITH
Why choose Tony Craig?
TC may not have been the most technically gifted full-back in the Championship, but his passion for Millwall was never in question. Tough tackling and never shying away from a challenge, Tony Craig always gave 100% to the Lions and his performances shown in the 2010 - 2011 season. Despite competition at left-back, Craig was a regular in the Lions' first season back in the second tier.
Why choose James Meredith?
James Meredith plays like he is a seasoned professional at Championship level and like he has been at Millwall for years. A defender who is also dangerous in attack, Meredith's pace and stamina makes him a formidable opponent, and one who is also excellent with the ball at his feet. Meredith has been in great form this year, and this has been rewarded with an international call up to the Australian national side.
MY TEAM SO FAR
So far, out of my back five, I have chosen three Guv'nors and two new boys. It maybe my age, it may be nostalgia or it may actually be talent, but I feel that Forde, Dunne and Ward just shave it alongside Meredith and Hutchinson so far. But what are your thoughts? Agree or disagree, let me know your thoughts in the comments below!