Millwall boss Neil Harris has lauded the response he has seen from the squad in training as The Lions attempt to return to winning ways at The Den against Leeds United tomorrow.
Harris has described the progress in the sessions as ‘outstanding’, adding that the players returning from international duty have come back sharp and ready to get back into Sky Bet Championship action.
“The last two weeks’ training has been as good as anytime while I’ve been in charge. It’s been top drawer,” the manager said.
“The sessions the coaches have put on, the attitude for the boys to learn, reminders for the boys that have been here for a period of what we’re good at and the areas we need to improve on. There are a lot of areas we need to improve on, but there are a lot of things we’re very good at as well, and they can keep being tweaked and made better – it’s been an outstanding few weeks.
“The new lads have had a lot of messages, video work and work on the training pitch, and some tactical sessions that aren’t the most exciting to take part in but ones they’ve attacked really well and embraced.”
The boss was delighted to report a clean bill of health for the Millwall players who have represented their nations over the past fortnight, including Irish internationals Shaun Williams and Aiden O’Brien, who scored their first senior goals for Martin O’Neill’s side against Wales and Poland respectively.
“First and foremost, the six boys who have been away have come back in great spirits, and fit and healthy by the looks of it. We do have to monitor that going into the game, but they all look okay.
“A special mention must go to Aiden O’Brien and Shaun Williams who scored their first international goals, and I couldn’t be any prouder.
Harris further commended Republic of Ireland duo Williams and O’Brien, stating that they ‘deserve everything they get’ for their hard work.
“They’re two brilliant lads who deserve everything they get, because every day on the training pitch their attitude to work is phenomenal,” the manager beamed.
“You can see them on the pitch on a Saturday – they might not always be the best players, but they’ll have a right go.
“For Shaun Williams at 31 to score his first international goal says a lot about his character. For Aiden, there could be the odd game where it doesn’t quite happen for him, but then there’s a game like he had the other night for Ireland – he’s a fox in the box, and I’m delighted for those two in particular.”
Harris is confident that the mindset of the squad has improved ahead of the clash, and claims the team will take to the pitch tomorrow with the ‘Millwall mentality’.
“The biggest thing is that I hope the disappointment has evaporated that I aired publicly with the mentality of the group over the end of that transfer window culminating – in my opinion – in the defeat against Swansea, a game we dominated. The group is back to its very best, the attitude in the changing room is as good as it’s ever been – if not the best – and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the last couple of weeks.
“Does it mean we’re going to beat Leeds on Saturday? There’s no given right as we know against a top side. But what I do know is that the team I put out will have the right mentality – the Millwall mentality.
“At a sold-out Den, it will be a great occasion.”
Elaborating on the support for the encounter with Marcelo Bielsa’s side, the manager went on to praise the atmosphere made by the fans inside The Den and said it has created more excitement around the camp.
“You can feel the buzz around the training ground.
“The game was sold out early in the week, and it shows that the fans believe in the players and love what they’ve seen over the last three-and-a-half years, and they want that to continue.
“Some of the atmospheres we’ve had over the last few years are great occasions, and I want my players to play in that all the time.”
Harris described the early home fixtures for The Lions as ‘awesomely tough’, declaring that previous games at The Den have exhibited the team’s ability to match and dominate any side in the division.
“Middlesbrough, Derby, Swansea, Leeds at the weekend, then Aston Villa and Sheffield United, what an awesomely tough start at The Den! But that’s why we’re at this level, and the players will be ready for Saturday and they’ll enjoy it. We need the fans to come and play their part as they have done and get behind the boys.
“Leeds will keep the ball and try and frustrate us, but we’re used to that now over the last couple of years; we need to make sure we’re at our best when we have the ball.
“The first three games of the season were excellent and we got five points, the next three we didn’t get a return on points and we should have won at least one of those games, if not got more points. We take confidence from the fact that when we’re at our best, we can compete with anyone in this league.”
The boss concluded by telling us what he expects from the table-toppers, crediting how former Argentina manager Bielsa has developed his squad’s mentality in the early stages of this season.
“What we know about Leeds is that they’re a very talented side with an experienced new manager who’s getting the best out of his group. They had a group of players last year that should have cruised into the top six in my opinion. At times, they were top of the table, were in the top six for parts of the season, but then fell away probably a little bit through mentality.
“The mental strength of Leeds is different now, and we’ll still see their ability. It’s as tough a game as we could have had, but as I’ve alluded to, we’ve already played top sides like Swansea, Derby and Middlesbrough. At The Den, we’ve played better than all of them.”
“The challenge for us is to be as good as we have been, but not just to do it for 78, 88 or 94 minutes – we have to do it from the first whistle to the last.”