Neil Harris has stirred up the excitement for Saturday’s Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round visit to AFC Wimbledon this Saturday afternoon, branding the tie "a huge opportunity for both teams."
Having overcome the challenges of Hull City and Everton in previous rounds with late comebacks, a place in the last eight is now at stake for the second time in three years for Millwall.
“We’re very much looking forward to the tie,” Harris told millwallfc.co.uk.
“In the Cup, you want to be at The Den against a side like Crystal Palace, or West Ham if they had progressed, but if you don’t get a draw like that, you want a tie that means something to you.
“Facing Wimbledon is a South London derby to a certain extent, and it’s a huge opportunity for definite for both teams to get through. The message to the players is clear – there is a place in the Quarter-Finals at stake. Just because we’ve had a Final, Semi-Finals and Quarter-Finals in the last 15 years, you cannot take for granted what it means to get to the latter stages of this competition – or the euphoria and excitement that it brings.”
The manager explains that the contest is a “learning curve” for his team in an alternative environment to previous Cup ties this season at The Den, and says he expects to see “Millwall traits” exhibited by the players.
“It’s a nice distraction for us from the League before we visit Derby County next week, and certainly a game I look forward to personally because of my affiliation with the competition.
“The last round against Everton was a great occasion – even coming back and beating Hull in the Third Round was nice with Shane Ferguson’s two class goals. Beating Everton – especially in the way we did – was a great experience to manage in and for the players in the dressing room to be involved in.
“It quickly now spins to this tie, where we have to find a different level of performance. The elements will be in Wimbledon’s favour as the home side, especially with no replays at this stage. The atmosphere will be different, and it will be a different challenge, but all you can do is test yourself against the greatest challenges. This is a learning curve for the players which I fully expect them to overcome – we’re talking about Millwall traits: leadership, desire and mental strength to win the game. If my Millwall team turns up on Saturday and plays to the best of its ability, we’ll have a great chance to get through.”
Harris has given an update on the fitness of striking duo Lee Gregory and Tom Elliott, with the former coming off late against Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday night and the latter potentially in the frame to return from his shoulder injury against his previous club.
“Lee just appeared to be suffering from cramp – everyone saw on Tuesday what a shift he put in – and with cramp you have to monitor for any strains in the calf area. Hopefully Lee is good to go.
“Tom Elliott is as fit as we can get him after dislocating his shoulder six weeks ago. He’s not out of the woods with the shoulder, but every 24-48 hours that go by he gets stronger and stronger. He would have been involved in the squad on Tuesday night, but he’s had a bacterial virus which has been quite nasty, so he’s been very unlucky. We would love to have him as part of the group this weekend, but it’s ultimately not a footballing decision whether he’s fit.
“We are low on numbers again, and there could be some involvement for the younger boys. That’s something we’ll just get on with, and whatever team I put out on the pitch will be ready for the challenge.”
The boss finally discusses how this chance may not come around again for many of his squad, and that this should be enough of an incentive for a positive display in south-west London.
“I said to the players after the game on Tuesday about the quality of elements of our performance, the way our season has gone that we didn’t win a game we would have won last year, but that defensively we are back to our best.
“I also talked about how we’re a little bit short of goals at the moment, but we’re creating chances. The focus then quickly turned to this Saturday, because I sense the group is really focused on the League campaign. I told them that now we can switch off from the League for four days, and focus on Wimbledon. They have work to do to learn about the players they’ll be facing and we’ve had to study a lot of footage, and some of these boys won’t have this opportunity to reach the Quarter-Finals again. Some of them couldn’t believe they had the opportunity two years ago – most players go through their career without an appearance at this late a stage in the competition.
“The group may never get the chance again, so the message is clear – and that, with the inner-felt desire in the dressing room, should be enough for me not to have to tell them a lot more before the game.”