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Harris: "The second half of the season was a phenomenal effort by my players"

The manager casts his eye over 2017/18...

15 May 2018

Millwall boss Neil Harris has claimed that his side were "underestimated" at times during the 2017/18 campaign.

The Lions nearly secured a third consecutive shot at the Play-Offs after briefly flirting with sixth spot towards the end of the Sky Bet Championship campaign but finished eighth in their first season back in the second tier.

The season could almost be split into two halves, with the club adapting to life in a division above pre-Christmas before embarking on a 17-match unbeaten run in the New Year that so very nearly propelled Harris' side to within a shot at a place in the Premier League.

Sitting down with shortly after The Lions concluded their remarkable campaign with a 1-0 win over Aston Villa, Harris told of how the club wanted to attack The Championship "in the right manner."

"Looking back, it's been a wonderful season," he said. "We've exceeded expectations. We came into the season full of hope, optimism and excitement, not just myself and my staff but the football club as a whole.

"We worked tirelessly for a couple of years to get out of League One and get back to where we feel the club should be, battling in The Championship. We wanted to do it in the right manner, taking small steps and getting over bridges, making improvements constantly in transfer window, on the pitch and off the pitch, also."

The Championship is a division full of ex-Premier League clubs with budgets beyond the wildest dreams of many.

As soon as the dust had settled on Millwall's Play-Off winning season of 2016/17, bookies and pundits were tipping The Lions to head straight back to League One in May 2018.

However, Harris made many eat their words, steering the club to mathematical safety as early as mid-March, following a 2-0 win over Barnsley at Oakwell.

"We knew this season was going to be difficult. We knew we'd have to build into it and try to gain a foothold in the League. We knew we were competing against some huge sides - not just big clubs in crowds they get, but also financially. They invest hugely in squads and pay huge wages.

"Once we settled into the League and realised that there were some big name clubs but maybe not with the quality on the pitch, it settled us down. The second half of the season was a phenomenal effort by my players.

"As a Millwall manager or player, you can be written off before you get going. It's human nature in this industry that people will judge you before you've kicked a ball. However, we've been at our best as a football club as the underdog. We always have been.

"I think people only made judgements at the start of the season because budgets dictate in football a lot of the time. We had one of the smallest budgets in the division and people made us one of the favourites to be relegated. We used that various times during this year and - I have to be honest - I think people underestimated us at times. We certainly used that to our advantage."

The 17-game unbeaten run coincided with minimal changes to the starting line-up and also included a record-equalling six consecutive away League victories - a period that Harris targeted as a time to "make an impact."

"Consistency clearly kicked in during the second half of the season. At the start of February, a pattern of games of 'Tuesday-Saturday-break/Tuesday-Saturday-break' meant we went from one game to the next focusing on purely one game at a time.

"We went from a good January into being six games unbeaten, then quickly nine, 11 and so on. We were thinking 'that's some achievement at this level for us.' I think that's when belief grew within the football club. We had the belief that we weren't going to be beaten.

"I think the fixtures fell really well for us in that period. They didn't fall so well at the end of the season playing four huge clubs, but we had a run of games where, certainly away from home, we could make an impact."

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