Neil Harris has commended the impact of the returning international players to Calmont Road as Millwall look to pick up a positive result at Ewood Park against Blackburn Rovers this Saturday.
Several players represented their nations over the past week, with Harris given a selection headache for the trip to Lancashire.
“We’ve been working hard to trying to improve over the international break, working both with and without the ball and trying to get some messages into the boys – we want to get some freedom into their play,” Harris told millwallfc.co.uk.
“We have the boys who have come back from international duty as well like Jon Dadi, Fergie and Jayson – and that just lifts the group having them all return. All three did exceptionally well while they were away, and it’s a real good boost to have them back. Whether they’ve won, lost or drawn whilst away, as long as they’ve been in a happy camp, they bring that positivity back with them. That’s why I’m so keen for the players to go away with their national sides, play and do well. The place is buzzing ahead of a tough game for us on Saturday, and we’re really looking forward to it.”
The manager explains how he breaks the campaign down into sections, and has expressed his delight at a longer period on the training pitch after a demanding August.
“It’s key to have the boys in for a more prolonged period on the training pitch after so many games in a short space of time. You don’t always get a lot of time on the training pitch in August, and then you get longer out there in September and October where there aren’t as many games.
“You really have to break the season down into chunks. Over pre-season, you have a chance to bed in messages and you hope that the players can take them in quickly and bring them into games, and when you have international breaks it gives you the opportunity to redevelop those messages and remind players individually and collectively what we’re asking for. You hope to see small improvements – no guarantee you’ll see them in the following game, it does take time with a new group – but it gives us the chance as coaches to work on the training pitch.
“We can implement different sorts of training as well, because when you’re playing so many games it can get repetitive. This means there’s barely any time on the training pitch, let alone good quality sessions. So, we’ve had a chance to train a bit differently – plenty of short, sharp stuff and physical work – whilst also keeping in mind that most of the boys have gone two weeks without a game. The boys have embraced it, worked really hard, and it’s been a good period.”
Harris analyses the positives of a points return which sees The Lions enter September in the top half of the Sky Bet Championship, and says his team must continue to prove their progress in front of the supporters.
“Straight away, you’re judged on your points return. Nine points from six League games is a solid return, and I think my main disappointment in my post-match interviews after Hull was the fact that we should have won the game. The pleasing thing was that we were disappointed not to win both games against Middlesbrough and Hull, which shows some progress.
“We could have been in a much healthier position, because there will be some tough periods during the course of a season, but the positives are that we performed well in those games and we’ve had a solid start. With regards to the Cup, we were delighted with the displays at West Brom and Oxford despite the goals conceded in the latter.
“We’ve had a good international break, but the proof will be in the pudding when we come back against Blackburn and we’ll aim to recreate the first six games of the season in the next six. We have to be looking for a similar points return.”
The boss discusses Tony Mowbray’s Rovers as an opponent, a side who The Lions picked up a mere point from last season.
“Blackburn were very solid last year and they have some very good attacking players, as all teams have at this level.
“I’ve seen Tony [Mowbray] talk about a bit of an inconsistent start they’ve had to the season, and you’re never quite sure what personnel you’re going to face. What we do know is that they’re a high-energy team with some very good footballers, and they can play from the back.
“It’s another tough challenge for us, and Ewood Park is a notoriously tough place to go. So, we have to be at it from the first whistle and we have to compete.”
Harris finally opens up on where his mind lies in terms of team selection, with a host of players in contention for a starting place at Ewood Park.
“There’s certainly a long thought process with regards to team selection going into Saturday, and you do have to weigh up with international players whether they’re ready to come back and play.
“Yes, they may have gone away and done well, playing plenty of minutes, but then we have to take into account how much they have played and their travelling, too.
“I do have thoughts in my mind over what team I’d like to play, but I will have to see how players are up until the game before naming the side. There are a lot of factors to consider, and with players like Jason McCarthy, Shaun Hutchinson and Luke Steele gaining match fitness, all the players are now up to speed – barring Jiri who won’t travel with us, and Tom Elliott who is still regaining full sharpness. They’ve all played well this season which makes it even tougher, and I do want some consistency to the team, but you want to give players the opportunity when they’re doing well. Every player knows they have an opportunity to play, which maintains the hunger, desire and training standards.”