Neil Harris has spoken highly of the spirits amongst the squad on the training ground this week, as Millwall jump back into Sky Bet Championship action with a visit to Elland Road to face Leeds United this Saturday (kick-off 3pm).
The Lions take on Marcelo Bielsa’s side on the back of the Emirates FA Cup Quarter-Final against Brighton & Hove Albion, an impressive 2-0 League victory at Birmingham City and the recent international break.
“It’s been good [on the training ground],” Harris told millwallfc.co.uk.
“People ask if whether the international break came at a good time after Brighton and Birmingham, but we can’t control it and players have been able to get a period under their belts of rest and recovery.
“A few of the boys have been away and had a good time with their nations results-wise, and others have done necessary fitness work and gained minutes in the Under 23s. All the players have got what they’ve needed over the 10 days leading up to this weekend. What I will say is that the players had a couple of days off after Brighton, needing to recover from the adrenaline and the minutes they played. They came back and were fully focused on getting back to the League, and this week started with some outstanding sessions on Monday and Tuesday. The players are rested and recovered, they’re showing intensity and they’re embracing the run-in.”
The manager is eagerly anticipating the trip to West Yorkshire, describing it as a “perfect game” to refocus on following the week without domestic football.
“Leeds is a perfect game for us. Coming back after Brighton with the atmosphere and the occasion and what it meant, going to Leeds quickly refocuses the mind. It’s a great place to play, there will be a big crowd, and the stakes are huge for both sides.
“So whether the international break came at a good or a bad time, I’m not sure – but what I do know is that the focus going into the Leeds game has been outstanding, and it’s the best game we could possibly have had.”
Leeds and Millwall have enjoyed and endured some thrilling matches in recent years with significant meaning behind them, and Harris has outlined the importance of supporters’ passion to the fixture.
“The fixture has the added spice because of the passion shown by the sets of fans and how they support their teams. It’s not a local game by any stretch of the imagination, but there have been plenty of really important games between the sides.
“We’re certainly looking forward to it – Leeds are pushing right up there at the top of the table to get the club into the Premier League, where I personally think they should be. We ourselves are fighting to get points on the board to pull ourselves away from the danger zone. There’s a lot at stake for the game, and the pressure will certainly be on the home side.
“They’ll have a fanbase turning up expecting them to win, and I always expect my team to perform individually, be difficult to play against and have an end product. This game is similar to Brighton in the sense where we’ll go into it as the underdog, and can play with no fear knowing we’ve performed in our last couple of games and that 35,000 Leeds fans will turn up expecting their team to stroll past us.”
The boss speaks of aiming to restore a degree of consistency ahead of the final furlong of the campaign, and claims momentum can be taken from the recent displays of his side.
“I don’t think as a group – collectively and individually – that we’ve been consistent enough this season. But we put in two very good performances in our last two games, and we take solace from the fact that we were the better team against Brighton for 90 minutes – and then stood strong, defended well and didn’t go under during extra-time.
“We give huge credit to the players for that, but the Birmingham game set the standards for us in the League. What that’s done is given us confidence and momentum going into the last five weeks of the season. The focus is there, and we know how important it is and how monumental the games are going to be. You can only take one game at a time, and facing Leeds home and away is great at this level, so we’re certainly going to enjoy the challenge.”
Harris concludes by discussing team news for the visit to Elland Road, with Shane Ferguson suspended after his late dismissal against Brighton – but a trio of Cup-tied players available again.
“There’s nothing new to report. The players back from international duty have fit in and trained well, and obviously to have Shane missing is a blow as he has been one of our most consistent performers and his form has been outstanding.
“But it’s an opportunity for someone else to come in, and to have Ben Marshall – who has played at full-back quite a lot – back available is a bonus, along with Ben Thompson and Fred Onyedinma who have also been cup-tied.
“We have players who can step in, and that’s a nice position to be in because the players performed after having to make changes for the Brighton game, so there are decisions to make in a couple of key areas.”