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Harris: "This response meant a lot"

Manager assesses win and clean sheet in Second City contest

13 March 2019

Neil Harris has reflected on a strong display from his players after a 2-0 victory in the Sky Bet Championship over Birmingham City.

The vital win, through Ben Thompson's first-half double, moves The Lions onto 37 points. The manager states that the win "meant a lot", demonstrated by a spirited huddle amongst players and staff in front of the travelling Millwall supporters at St. Andrew's Trillion Trophy Stadium.

"It meant a lot tonight. We represent the club and we want to do well for the club and this fanbase," Harris says.

"We've come in for a lot of criticism over the last few days, which has hurt myself and the players, but we're stronger together and that is our motto as a club.

"That was to show everybody that we're in this together as a whole football club, not just the players on the pitch, and I thought that [the huddle] was appropriate tonight in front of the fans who travelled and supported their team."

The boss made four changes to his starting team from the weekend, also changing his shape around and says several of his squad deserve their opportunities, going on to praise Thompson after his brace.

"It was a strong performance against a Birmingham side who are chasing the Play-Offs - we knew it was going to be a tough game. I made some strong decisions I believe in personnel ahead of the game, because some players have not been up to their high standards lately which they've set over a period of time.

"I thought some players deserved an opportunity. Sometimes you get [these decisions] right, sometimes you get them wrong. We had a gameplan tonight to defend really well to stop the threat of their front players, and hit them on the counter-attack, and fortunately it worked perfectly - and Ben Thompson took his goals really well.

"Thommo was excellent, as he has been ever since he's come back from Portsmouth. He went on loan in the first place to gain some confidence and much needed first-team minutes, and we had a strong squad off the back of a great season at the time he went to Pompey. I knew that him playing under Kenny [Jackett] would be a great benefit to him, and he has come back ready to be a Championship footballer. He is finding his feet with the big step up, he galvanises us as a group and also the fanbase."

Harris goes on to laud the rest of his squad, including stand-in captain Alex Pearce and Dave Martin, who made his first League appearance of the campaign.

"Ben was one of many players who were strong performers tonight. He'll take the plaudits for the two goals, but we got a clean sheet away from home which was really important to us.

"Dave Martin hasn't played a lot of football in the last couple of years, but he's come in, played excellently and kept a clean sheet. Alex Pearce too hasn't played a lot of football but he came in, captained the side and led really well. Lee Gregory led the line very well, and Marshy [Ben Marshall] and Jed showed some real form and moments of quality."

Reflecting further on his team selection, Harris credits the way the gameplan of he and his coaching staff came off in the West Midlands.

"We picked a team tonight not necessarily to really affect the game with the ball, but more to stop Birmingham to a certain degree.

"On the back of their disappointment at the weekend and the events surrounding them, we thought we could frustrate them tonight. We knew when we did come forward, Tunni [Ryan Tunnicliffe] and Thommo could cause problems. The four or five times we got it right going forward, we threatened their goal.

"Yes, we gave the ball away cheaply at times, but we tried to do the right things, and the gameplan that we've discussed over the last 48 hours came to fruition."

Finally, the manager claims that the response was the most crucial factor of the victory, carrying momentum into Sunday's Emirates FA Cup Quarter-Final against Brighton & Hove Albion.

"Psychologically, it's massive after four defeats in a row. A lot of those games have been really close, with Bolton playing Saturday like a Cup Final and us not reaching those levels.

"We knew we wanted a response tonight - we changed personnel and shape, and we wanted a foothold in the game. To get the result tonight will disappoint other teams around us.

"We don't play again in the League for two-and-a-half weeks, and until we face Leeds we can't control where we are in the table now. But what we can do is carry on our momentum, positivity and take that into a game against a Premier League side who are expected to come and beat us."


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