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Harris: “It was everything you want in your first game of the season”

Boss talks after raising curtain on campaign with win and clean sheet

3 August 2019

Neil Harris has praised his Millwall side after securing a 1-0 win in Saturday’s season opener against Preston North End at The Den.

Jed Wallace’s first-half volleyed effort proved the difference between the teams, and Harris has outlined a range of positives.

“It was a great start, the first few minutes were excellent,” the manager says.

“Preston then got onto the front foot and forced us back, but it was everything you want in your first game of the season. We got a quality goal, a great finish from Jed, and some of the new boys got onto the pitch. We got a clean sheet, and Tom Bradshaw was able to get an important 20 minutes at the end.

“It was always going to be a tough start and a real challenge, because we can’t forget the qualities Preston have as an experienced Championship side. I can talk all you want about the spirit in the dressing room, but you saw that today and you could sense a different feel at the end of the game that we would see it out.”

Harris explains that patience is still required over the coming months to reach where the side want to be, but has highlighted key impacts from Wallace and goal-maker Mahoney, as well as the strong options at his disposal from the squad.

“We won’t get too high when we win, or too low when we lose. We have a rebuilding project on the go here, and we have players committed who will put their bodies on the line.

“Today we saw the qualities of Connor [Mahoney] who can put those deliveries into the box, and a goal from Jed who is such a good player at this level. Because of how much he cares, he felt a bit of pressure in the second half of last season, but I’m glad for him to get off the mark early. His job is to score goals as well as assist them, and I’m delighted for him.

“Being able to look round to your bench and be able to bring on the players we had such as Bart [Bialkowski], Ryan Leonard and Tom Bradshaw – as well as the players who didn’t get on the pitch – is brilliant. The starters are obviously important, because they’re the ones going out and playing the majority of the game, but when you want to rely on the squad and the spirit we have to have here, the important players become the non-starters. The starters rally around the non-starters, who in turn support the starters whilst pushing to play. Anyone can be called upon at any time, which we saw here with Frank [Fielding] having to go off and Bart coming on.”

On the downside for The Lions was the debut injury to goalkeeper Fielding, who was replaced late in the first-half by fellow debutant Bialkowski.

“It doesn’t look like it will be good news with Frank – it’s a quad injury,” says the manager.

“We’ll know more in the coming days on his condition.”

Harris finally gives his dues to a near-15,000-strong crowd at The Den, whose rapturous support amazed several of the newcomers.

“I should never be amazed by Millwall fans, but the size of the crowd I was really pleasantly surprised by. It shows that the fans want to support the team, and they’re pleased with the recruitment that we’ve made.

“It’s not the finished article – we have a long way to go – there will be ups and downs, before we settle into a rhythm further into the season. But we’ve hit the ground running, and that’s key to us.

“The new lads couldn’t believe the atmosphere in the stadium. I told them to imagine what it’s like when we play teams like Leeds, Charlton and play in other big games. When you get a feel and a taste for that, you just want more.”

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