2018-19 was a tough season for the Lions, both on and off the pitch. There has been a lot said from the media, football experts and the club itself. But what do you, the Millwall Fans think of the most recent campaign and what we can do going forward? For this edition of Fans’ Thoughts, we sit down with Alex Russell - manager, captain, coach, physio, first-aid man, defender, secretary, treasurer, and head cheerleader of his seventh division Saturday league team. Also, a man who has the initials on his Sports Direct polo shirt with his team's badge ironed on. Trials are available if anyone is interested....
There’s no point sugar coating it, it wasn’t pretty. However, what was expected? That’s one problem with Millwall fans haha! They expect us to be flirting with the play-offs every season! On our budget, and with the squad we have, it’s been a successful season. “The accomplishment of an aim of purpose.” If you said to me back in August “you can finish 21st", I’d have bit your hand off. But, to have an emotional journey in the FA Cup was a bonus!
Neil Harris is still learning. I can understand that and I’m sure other fans can too. Well... they should understand that anyway. I think Harris really did a great job with what he had, so working within his budget is phenomenal. Whether it’s Harris or a more senior decision, he’s tied down some crucial players to long term contracts which is imperative to competing in the Championship, but also to attract higher fees should players be sold. He’s also listened to what fans wanted etc in playing a new formation. I think with the right personnel, it could work next season. Also, letting Thompson go out on loan was a superb shout. However, with the good comes the bad. I feel as though an area which needs improving are the substitutes. Both the timings of them and the actual players involved. However, fans do not see what goes on behind closed doors. There may be players who have said “they don’t want to play for Millwall” on the bench and they’re not a viable option. I can only look at it from a fans perspective and I feel as though substitutions let us down at multiple points this season.
This season or in general [most memorable moments]? I think our impeccable record in the FA Cup is something to be proud of. I’ve seen some phenomenal games in recent years. Our policy on transfers (up until Bradshaw & Lendog) were also incredible and punching well above our weight in terms of the teams around us. But we have also produced some real talent, haven’t we? I’m sure every Millwall fan has got a story about an incredible player or two... or five, down at The Den.
Personally only a handful of players consistently performed well for me. Lee Gregory is an incredible footballer. His hunger and drive to chase down lost causes and bring others into play is second to none. He also has one of the best first touches in the team, hands down. Jed Wallace gives 110% week in, week out and he’s one of the only players who is genuinely “exciting” to watch. The way he runs at defenders with pace is something our fan base probably aren’t used to watching and the delivery on him! He’s exactly what you want in a winger. Thommo really done himself proud - to not be in the squad, go out on loan, come back and make sure you’re the first name on the team sheet every week is class. Scoring some important goals and potentially showing up some of the players who threw their toys out of the pram in the dressing room. Get your head down and prove yourself. Jake Cooper - I’m 50/50 with Coops, part of me can’t look past the contribution of goals and assists which were more than any English Centre Back across all of the leagues. But the other part of me can’t look past the fact he looks like Bambi on ice when in possession of the ball at feet and he is also the catalyst for the long diagonals. But sometimes, they work.
Players to not live up to their potential is a tricky one. I don’t like looking at negatives, but you’d be clueless to say there weren’t any. Meredith didn’t live up to last seasons form, although he’d set the bar very high. Perhaps not having a World Cup squad to try and be a part of didn’t help.
Another player who I don’t think had a particularly great season was Elliot..... but I’ll leave that there.
With all due respect to Harris, I know the squad should be what he wants to work with, but I can’t fathom this “Millwall kind of player”. What is it? Because we do desperately lack quality in some areas. I think Millwall should take a punt on some Premier League youngsters - a midfielder & a whippet to keep some of the older players on their toes. Maybe a left back? I’d actually go and buy/sign a proven goalscorer upfront, but that’s easier said than done. Maybe take a gamble on a lower league or Scottish League forward etc. I’d also try someone on a freebie like Norwich did with Pukki. Go abroad, get someone in who either wants a bigger move somewhere and will play his socks off and also has a national team he wants to be a part of and will again fight for it.
Sometimes pre-season should be a kick up the backside and bring the players together in time for the season. The thing I don’t agree with is playing opposition who aren’t as good as yourselves. I can appreciate not wanting to pick up any injuries etc. but with the transfer window closing early, you want to see how the squad can compete when given a test! I also think a big club (home country or abroad) would bring in some revenue for a club like Millwall. But we’ll see what happens, I think Real Soceidad will be a decent one.
I’d take a repeat of last season if it meant staying up. By hook or by crook, survival should be our goal. Depending on who we add and how quickly we add them, I believe there is no reason we can’t compete for a solid mid-table finish. However, we need to remember that there won’t be a Bolton or Ipswich next season. Last season there was basically only one relegation spot as the other two were wrapped up by Christmas - like Leeds’ title, but I feel optimistic nonetheless...