MANAGER Neil Harris says there is a “buzz” back in the squad after Millwall’s recent run of improved form.
The Lions’ 2-0 defeat of Northampton on Tuesday night was their fifth win in eight games since the last international break.
Prior to that run just one win in six left Harris feeling like they were going “downhill”, but now he has the chance over the current break to work with the squad and build on the progress of the last six weeks.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he admitted. “That’s three wins in four at home and arguably the most dominant display was the one we lost (2-0 against Southend). We’ve got Swindon here next who will be another possession team, and it’ll be a matter of patience again for us but we’ve got a lot to work on in the meantime.
“The players know that, I know that, and they’re prepared to work hard.
“I’m delighted with my players, we wanted to get through. And we wanted to get through because I hate losing. I want to win every game, I want to win here.
“We had a bad start and we were going downhill fast, but we’re taking the steps to rebuild. We’re enjoying it and there was a little buzz coming to the game (Tuesday), the boys were looking forward to it again.
“That’s really key, especially when you’re playing at home, and especially for a club like this.”
Harris has frequently spoken about the need for his players to be patient when the opposition has the ball at The Den and he said he never felt uneasy when Northampton became the latest side to adopt the same strategy in the hope of stirring disquiet in the home support.
He said: “I’m not nervous when teams come to play total football in their own half to try and frustrate our crowd.
“The game’s changed. Fifteen years ago here you could press the ball, press the ball. Nowadays you can’t. Teams are happy to overload areas.
“We saw another team that came here to play possession against us. And they did, but they didn’t hurt us.
“As much as teams want to go sideways and backwards against us it’s what you do with the ball in the final third that’s important and we should have been 3-0 up at half-time.
“I told the boys at half-time to relax. We adjusted slightly to be a little more aggressive on the press. We explained to the players how to do that and I thought in the second half we pushed on and saw how important it is to get the first goal to settle everybody down.
“I thought their goalkeeper was outstanding to keep the score to 2-0.”
Harris made six changes, three of which were enforced, to the side that had lost to Peterborough last weekend and took the opportunity to rest Carlos Edwards, Byron Webster and Fred Onyedinma.
That meant chances for Jack Powell and Lee Martin, but both players were withdrawn in the second half with the game still scoreless.
Harris felt the difficulty they had in imposing themselves on the game was down partly to an over-eagerness to make a positive impact.
“Sometimes you try too hard as a player,” he explained. “Especially as a young player. You want to impress so much when your chance comes along and I think we saw that at times with a few players who have been striving for the opportunity to play.
“A few got the opportunity and their character and attitude was brilliant, their work rate phenomenal, but sometimes you have to not get caught up in the moment and just try and play your natural game.
“I felt a couple of the players didn’t do that for some periods.”
Onyedinma was one of those to come on and he made an immediate difference. Within 10 minutes he was carrying the ball directly at the Northampton defence causing them to swiftly backpedal before Aiden O’Brien found space on the edge of the box to sweep in the opening goal.
The 18-year-old attacker had also shown against Wigan how effective a threat he can be when introduced and it’s another arrow in the quiver of his rapidly developing game.
Harris said: “He’s great. He did really well when he started, and he’s done really well when he’s come off the bench. He’s a young kid who’s really raw, really fast and wants to get down the line and do things, and he’ll get it wrong sometimes.
“It’s just getting that balance of when to play him, when to bring him off the bench, and that’s the same with some of my players. I think that’s more in the front four positions: the strikers and the wide players.
“I’ve got some good players and it’s about getting that mix and telling them you can’t play every game but you can affect the game every time you play.
“We’ll see (about potential signings). I like to use my own players, preferably. If I need to bring anyone in at any stage of the season that makes us a better squad and a better team then I won’t hesitate.
“I have time now to reflect on the players we’ve got and we’ll be assessing the performances over the next few days. Let’s just wait and see.”