Neil Harris has spoken at length in preparation for the curtain-raiser to the new Sky Bet Championship season, claiming his revamped squad are in great spirits as Millwall take on Preston North End this Saturday (kick-off 3pm).
Harris’ eight summer signings have been integrated into the group over the past few weeks, building excitement around the camp.
“It’s been a great six weeks, and the season seems to have come around so quickly again,” the manager claimed when speaking to millwallfc.co.uk.
“It only feels like yesterday we were finishing last campaign, and it was almost relief when that finished. Then the rebuilding process started – which has now finished – and it’s really positive for us that we have our new players in a week before the transfer deadline.
“Now we’re looking forward to Preston. There is nervous anticipation for the group as ever, you hope that the people you brought in can hit the ground running, but then there’s a real excitement for the season. Maybe not necessarily a ‘new era’ as I’ve called it, but certainly an overhaul of the squad which is really key.”
Harris outlines the importance of team dynamic amongst the group, and says the pre-season period has been “a breath of fresh air”.
“When you look at the fixture list for The Championship, you don’t look at a period and think we could pick particular points up there. It’s very tough all the way through, with some real exciting games.
“I certainly hope that the squad is stronger – only time will tell. That’s the aim of letting people move onto pastures new and bringing new personnel in. The groups that form in the dressing room get separated over time to bring in fresh impetus, change the dynamic and hope that takes a positive effect on the pitch.
“I don’t want to dwell on last season but we didn’t have the year we hoped for, and we’re hoping to be better this year – more consistent and with better training standards. During pre-season, the period we’ve had has been a breath of fresh air. The desire and application of the players, them wanting to learn and to be better, has been first class.”
The boss says he is definite on the starting XI he will select to face Alex Neil’s Preston outfit, and explains how vital it is for the squad to remain tight-knit with regular changes expected throughout the marathon of the League season.
“We’re already clear on what the team will be for Saturday. The players will know over the course of the period leading up to the game.
“There will of course be some disappointed players who may have expected to play and certainly want to play, and obviously 11 very happy players. This is where the group dynamic becomes really key, because the lads who do play and the lads who don’t need to support each other. The lads playing especially need to support the group not starting, because the team I pick on 3rd August is very unlikely to be the team I pick on 31st August.
“That’s how quickly the game changes. We do of course want consistency in team selection and performances, but the level we play at and speed of the game with injuries mean that it’s very difficult to get a settled side.”
Preston visit SE16 having finished 14th last term, with The Lilywhites expected to improve on that standing this time around.
“Preston have a good, young but experienced manager and a big squad of players that are competitive at Championship level. They showed their qualities in the second half of last season and can be a real force,” Harris says.
“They’ve consistently been a top-half-quality side in The Championship for a number of years. They started slowly last year, but finished very strongly and we saw that at The Den back in February. They’re a competitive team all over the pitch with first balls and second balls, and have some real quality too.
“Preston lost one lad to the Premier League in Callum Robinson, I thought they could have lost a couple more of the very good players they still have, and it will be a tough challenge on Saturday. We have to impose ourselves early at The Den, and use the euphoria at the ground to get us going and get us off to a good start.”
The manager finally discusses his appreciation of competing in England’s second tier, and relishes the enthusiasm for what will be his third successive Championship season in charge.
“We talk about nervous anticipation and excitement, and that goes for myself and the staff also.
“The Championship is a great level to compete at – the fifth-most supported League in the world, because it’s the fifth-best League in the world, with the fifth-best group of players. It’s huge financially for the clubs playing in it, and the division is very well documented in the media.
“We know what a great privilege it is to play at this level, particularly having come through the ranks of League One to get there with the vast gulf between the divisions. Trying to sustain Championship status is a challenge here, and one we’re excited about. I feel refreshed and ready to go, and hopefully we see a refreshed and recharged Millwall team at the weekend.”