TONY Craig insisted there was no issue when Steve Morison had to hand over the captain’s armband before the League One play-off final against Barnsley in May.
Craig had been named on the bench before Byron Webster suffered a hamstring injury in the warm-up, meaning the club captain was drafted in to start his first competitive first-team game in seven months.
Morison had carried out pre-match media work with the assumption he would be the captain at Wembley, but he was the last player to emerge from the tunnel, with Craig instead leading the side out.
Some Lions fans expressed their surprise on social media that Morison, having skippered Millwall for 37 games when Craig was absent through injury, was denied the role against the Tykes.
But Craig explained that it was a straightforward decision.
“We all agreed that when I play I’m the captain, I’m the captain of this football club,” Craig said. “There were no disagreements. I know people try and publicise it and that, but I don’t understand where that comes from.
“It was agreed and it was a simple transition: Steve gave me that armband and I walked out and that was it.”
Craig admitted it was a shock to find himself in the starting XI so close to kick-off. Millwall then went 2-0 down within 19 minutes of the final and though they pulled a goal back they lost Joe Martin through injury two minutes before half-time. That left boss Neil Harris without three-quarters of his first-choice defence with Mahlon Romeo also suspended.
Barnsley scored a clinching third goal in the second half to win promotion to the Championship, leaving Craig to reflect on the third League One play-off final defeat of his career.
“I wasn’t prepared for it because Byron was fine the day before, there was no inkling he was going to have a hiccup on the day,” Craig explained.
“For me it was weird finding out 20 minutes before kick-off I was in with Byron struggling. Before I know it I’m leading the team out, it all happened so quickly.
“In the play-offs you need everything to go smoothly but unfortunately we lost Byron in the warm-up and we lost Joe Martin after (43) minutes. It’s one of them where we didn’t have luck on the day.
“We’ve got to dust ourselves down and get it out of our minds because it’s a new season now. Before you know it will have started.”
Millwall returned to pre-season training last Friday to begin preparations for the 2016-17 League One campaign, which starts at The Den on August 6 with a clash against Oldham.
Craig is positive about the quality of the current squad – augmented by the summer arrivals of Shaun Hutchinson, David Worrall and Gregg Wylde – and he is also hoping history repeats itself this season: He lost out on promotion to the Championship through the play-offs with Millwall in 2009 and Brentford in 2013.
“That’s the third play-off final I’ve lost but the following season I’ve always got promoted so hopefully that continues.
“It’s another year experience for these young pros coming through, we’ve got a lot of young, exciting talent. This season I do believe we’re going to see a lot more of them. We’ve got a good squad. We’ve all been looking forward to going back and looking forward to meeting the new boys.
“It should be a good season.”
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