Neil Harris has called on the Millwall fans to act as the crucial 12th man on Sunday afternoon at The Den as The Lions take on Chris Hughton’s Brighton & Hove Albion for a place at Wembley in the Emirates FA Cup last four.
Millwall will take to the field in SE16 for no less than their fourth Quarter-Final contest in 15 years, and their second in three seasons as Albion make the visit. Harris has talked up the importance of a vocal and supportive crowd at the weekend.
“The atmosphere here is of course hostile and loud, and it certainly plays in our favour as the home team,” the manager says.
We enjoy these occasions, but the main thing for me is that the players who give everything for this club get the reward of playing in atmospheres like we have at The Den. They’re getting to play in some big games and occasions, and I love seeing the players out there responding to the atmosphere. So far, whilst I’ve been in charge, it has certainly brought the best out of the group.”
“As a manager, it’s the next best thing to being over that white line. You’re close to the players, you’re with them every day, and of course you have an input. It’s the second-best thing to being out there. I don’t so much miss the games themselves, but there are always one or two games a year where you feel as if you’d love to be playing – Sunday will be one of those occasions.”
The boss claims the predominant style of play associated with his side can benefit in Cup ties, and hopes to continue a remarkable run in the competition which can act as a welcome distraction from the demanding League campaign.
“The style of play that we’ve developed over the years suits Cup football to a certain degree.
“Recently, we’ve had a rich history in this competition – for what reason, I don’t know – it’s crazy how you can go through periods of time like that. The number of Wembley appearances we’ve had in a short space of time and the big ties we’ve played in – it’s been a really good time for us.
“This year the players have enjoyed it as we all have, and it’s helped to take our focus away from the League at times. We’ll certainly be hoping to continue that on Sunday.”
Harris credits the work of Brighton manager Hughton, who has been with The Seagulls since 2014 and steered the club to their debut in the Premier League. However, the boss is confident the strong Albion squad will struggle under the shackles of the home support on the day.
“I think Chris [Hughton] has done a brilliant job at Brighton. Any manager at a club which gets promoted to the Premier League and sustains top-flight football is doing a wonderful job.
“They have recruited from around the world to build a strong squad, and they’ve picked up back-to-back wins in the Premier League, which is very difficult to do.
“They’ll come in good spirits, but that goes out the window for this game. That’s because the majority of their squad will not yet have played at The Den with the atmosphere that will be generated on Sunday. That will help us massively and act as a leveller between a Championship club and a Premier League club.”
Finally, the manager states how much of an opportunity the tie represents for both clubs to showcase themselves in a Wembley Semi-Final, and is assured that his squad will be fit and raring to go after Wednesday night’s Sky Bet Championship victory at Birmingham City.
“It’s a great opportunity for both clubs – Brighton will see it as a great chance to progress. There will be expectation on them from their fanbase to get through to the Semi-Finals against a Championship side. For us, it’s an opportunity on the big stage for my players live on TV, in the atmosphere we’re going to be in.
“It’s a challenge with a lot of difficulty and magnitude, but one we’re certainly going to relish. You can prepare all you need to as a manager, but once the players are over the white line, you’re putting all your faith in your group. You hope for a bit of luck on your side as is always the case in the Cup, but you more so want desire, character and individual and collective good performances.
“The players will be fine and ready. The game being on Sunday is a big help with the extra day’s rest and recovery. But it’s all about adrenaline in games like this, and the atmosphere in the stadium will carry the players.”