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Millwall’s underdog spirit may have ensured Championship safety but more is needed for long-term success • London Football Scene



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Whether it is remaining competitive with one of the smallest Championship budgets or producing FA Cup shocks, there’s no doubt unfashionable Millwall love to defy the odds.

It’s been intertwined within the club’s DNA for decades but something that, until Neil Harris’ return to SE16 in February, appeared to take a temporary leave of absence.

This back-to-the-wall fighting spirit has seen the Lions continually thrive against their more illustrious rivals with the approach perfectly summed up by former boss Gary Rowett at the start of this season.

“It doesn’t bother us – we enjoy that underdog tag,” Rowett remarked. “We’ve had four seasons where we’ve been very, very close to the Play-Offs, and the last two seasons have gone to the last game.

“I think the best cultures succeed – or the teams with the best players succeed.

“You’ve either got to go down one route or the other. If you haven’t got the resources to do one route, then you have to do what the likes of us, Preston and Luton are trying to do.

“That’s incrementally building a good structure, having a club with everybody pulling in the same direction with a clear strategy and a clear focus, and just trying to take those baby steps.”

During Rowett reign, it was an approach that was working until it was deemed not to be working by the hierarchy – with Rowett subsequently replaced by Joe Edwards in November.

Under Edwards, everything that was previously seen as a strength was deemed unsuitable as a fresh approach was sought during a disastrous short-lived spell that saw Millwall lose 11 of his 19 matches in charge.

READ MORE: How ‘Millwall on the Screen’ documentary challenges what it means to “support, or care, about the club”

Harris’ arrival may have been seen by some as a backward step, having originally left the club in 2019, but it brought about a return of Millwall’s underdog identity with instant success in his first game back in charge against promotion-chasing Southampton.

Yet the clearest indication came with the 1-0 win over top-of-the-table Leicester, reminiscent of another famous victory over the Foxes when Harris’ Millwall dumped the then-Premier League champions out of the 2017 FA Cup. 

The Leicester win came just days after back-to-back defeats to fellow strugglers Rotherham United and Huddersfield Town to further underline Millwall’s unfathomable propensity to claim big scalps but fall foul of smaller ones.

“It’s so Millwall-like to lose to Rotherham and Huddersfield, both in the last minute, and then beat the league leaders,” Harris said following the win over Leicester.

“That’s what this club does. Not just this group. The last 30 years of Millwall Football Club. It’s in the club’s DNA and it will probably never change.”

READ MORE: Millwall will survive in their Championship relegation fight – and it will be all down to Neil Harris

With only three defeats in 11 games in charge, it’s hard to argue against a return to Harris’ tried and tested approach that has seen Millwall navigate a potentially serious relegation threat with consummate ease.

There has to be long-term concern with the overall approach though, because, for the club to ultimately kick-on, they will have to rely on more than just plucky underdog spirit to progress – something Harris’ predecessor Rowett failed to address to his detriment.

Too many times during Rowett’s tenure, when Millwall had their destiny in their own hands and were favourites, they crumbled under the pressure – something Harris cannot ignore if the Lions are to be a success next season. 

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