STU­DENT NEIL STEPS IN TO TRY TO RES­CUE HIS LI­ONS

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE -

MILL­WALL hero Neil Har­ris has promised to give his all to help the Li­ons avoid the drop to League One – but stopped short of say­ing it was re­al­is­tic.

The 37-year-old for­mer striker has taken over as care­taker boss at the Den af­ter Ian Holloway was axed.

Har­ris scored 138 goals dur­ing his play­ing days at Mill­wall and has been coach­ing the U21 side.

But with nine games left, the Li­ons are firmly in the rel­e­ga­tion zone and have not won at home since Oc­to­ber.

“There are no prom­ises we’ll get out of trou­ble, but I’ll give it my all,” said Har­ris, who re­fused to be drawn on his long-term fu­ture.

“We’ve left it re­ally open. We’ve not set a def­i­nite pe­riod on how long I’ll be in charge. We’ll as­sess it in the sum­mer.

“Foot­ball is crazy some­times. I’ve learnt so much from Olly in the last 12 months, but I find my­self in this po­si­tion be­cause we’re strug­gling in the league.

“Re­sults haven’t gone as we had planned, but there’s a lot to play for – a lot to be ex­cited about.”

One area Har­ris ad­mits he will be look­ing to im­prove is goals – prior to the week­end the Li­ons had man­aged just 31 in the Cham­pi­onship.

But Har­ris sees no rea­son to panic, and backed Lee Gre­gory to de­liver.

“Gre­gory’s been un­lucky he hasn’t got more goals,” he said. “There’s not a lot more he needs to do, I be­lieve in him, there are a lot of similarities be­tween him and my­self when I first came here.”

MAYBE Neil Har­ris can pull off a mir­a­cle. Maybe Ful­ham or Rother­ham will col­lapse. Maybe the men in blue shirts will over­come their crip­pling fear of The Den.

But let’s be hon­est – it is in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to imag­ine Mill­wall as any­thing but a League One side next sea­son. And that could be no bad thing. The Li­ons have been grind­ing to a halt for a cou­ple of years now, tread­ing wa­ter in a di­vi­sion where the big­gest hit­ters get richer ev­ery year.

Like Barns­ley be­fore them, their re­sources al­low only a fran­tic root around the lower leagues for untested prospects or age­ing stal­warts that bet­ter­fi­nanced teams left be­hind.

The deep frus­tra­tion of Mill­wall’s fans is un­der­stand­able. As a (lapsed) New­cas­tle fan, I re­mem­ber well the stag­na­tion that fol­lowed Bobby Rob­son’s de­par­ture in 2004. Five years of inch­ing down the ta­ble. Five years of mis­er­able grind­ing. Ev­ery sea­son over by Fe­bru­ary.

But with rel­e­ga­tion to the Cham­pi­onship came rein­vig­o­ra­tion. One win a month be­came five in a row. Play­ers bereft of con­fi­dence started strut­ting around like Ron­aldo. And fans used to grum­bling re­mem­bered how it felt to watch a win­ning side.

Be­lief surged back. United’s first home game back in the top-flight was a 6-0 de­mo­li­tion of As­ton Villa, a re­sult un­think­able just two years ear­lier.

Of course, Mill­wall do not pos­sess a frac­tion of New­cas­tle’s re­sources. But the power of mo­men­tum should not be un­der­es­ti­mated.

Un­like Wi­gan, the Li­ons aren’t sad­dled with a mon­ster wage bill. The tran­si­tion to League One should be rel­a­tively pain­less. Re­build­ing will take time, but at least they can do it in a di­vi­sion where com­pet­ing for the best play­ers isn’t a pipe dream.

And if they can start win­ning, they will re­turn a far more danger­ous beast.

That’s surely bet­ter than an an­nual, con­fi­dence-sap­ping slog to scrape 21st place?

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