Neil Harris has expressed his satisfaction at how the squad have trained during the international break as The Lions look ahead to a busy week, starting with a clash at Reading on Saturday afternoon.
Harris says the players present in training throughout the break have addressed a number of issues, and that the team will look to pick up where they left off against Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa.
“It’s clear that we’re looking for a better response to this international break than the last one,” the boss says.
“The boys have worked hard over the past two weeks on the training pitch on things we felt we needed to address.
“It’s obviously more difficult when a few of the boys have been on international duty, but the majority of the squad have been here with us and to be honest, they have had some great sessions.”
The manager claims that the past two matches against Forest and Villa has lifted the whole camp, but remains grounded to the fact that there is plenty of hard work still to be done.
“As far as the games leading into the break are concerned, the performance at Forest was outstanding – we fully deserved at least a point – and the match against Villa was a real Millwall home performance.
“I think it’s given everyone a real lift – it has given belief not just to the players, but also the staff, and the fanbase as well.
“But we’ve not cracked anything yet, and we’re not back to the way we were last year – we’ve had a realisation that this division is better than it was last year and we have a lot of work in front of us.”
Harris stresses the importance of getting ‘back to basics’, and says there should be less concern over the position of certain opponents in the Sky Bet Championship table after facing many top-half sides.
“There’s no debating the fact we’ve conceded too many goals, and we’re just keeping on looking to get back to good habits.
“We have played nine out of the top 11 in the division. Not many sides can say they’ve played the whole top six. They all carry a powerful threat going forward which will cause problems. We need to impose ourselves on those games and not worry about where teams are [in the table].
“Putting them aside, we felt we had to get back to basics, which we did against Forest and Villa and we played outstandingly well in both games. We’ve reminded the boys what’s expected of them individually as well as collectively, and really forcing what we’re good at.”
Touching on The Royals, who go into Saturday’s match one point and one place below The Lions, Harris is adamant the team will be prepared for any type of Reading team fielded by Paul Clement.
“Reading probably would have expected to be doing better than they are at the moment. They have a manager who has had some great experiences in European football, as well as some very good players.
“We know at any stage that Reading could burst into life and be a top side, and we have to make sure we don’t allow them to do that. We have to be at our best defensively to counteract what they’re good at – they have an ability to change to various different shapes.
“We have to be ready to face any formation, and we will be. We also have to make sure that man-for-man, we’re better than them. And we know that we can hurt any team in this division with the ball.”
The manager notes that he has had ‘selection headaches’ throughout the week, with a fully-fit squad to choose from following the return to fitness of defender Shaun Hutchinson.
“It certainly is a selection headache. It’s not just the fact that everybody’s fit – it’s that everybody is in a good place.
“Not many teams can say they have what we have. You could pick a team that has performed in the previous game, but football isn’t as simple as that.
“We have three games in a week, and we have to assess the strengths and weaknesses of our opponents.”
Harris concludes by explaining he is aware that the next trio of opponents will look at Millwall as an opportunity to pick up points, but that the matches could be decided by the smallest of margins.
“This is a tough division. We could look at Reading, Wigan and Ipswich as more realistic targets to compete with over the course of the season – but they’ll also look at us as the same.
“We need to be together in these games. We need the fanbase to stick with us home and away through it, because these are the very tight, edgy games. The finer detail can decide these games one way or the other.
“It’s a big week – but we look purely at Saturday against Reading right now. We had a great result and performance there last year, and a huge following – and we hope for it all again this week.”