NEIL Harris revealed his admiration for the fans who travelled to Roots Hall for Millwall's 4-0 win over Southend on Monday.
There were officially 1,745 Lions supporters in the stadium – and they enjoyed the added bonus that the three first-half goals were scored into the away end.
The majority of the 10,099 in attendance would perhaps have expected Southend to extend their eight-game unbeaten run at home given also Millwall were on a three-game losing sequence in the league.
Instead, the contest was as good as over at the break as goals from full-backs Joe Martin and Shaun Cummings and winger Fred Onyedinma put Harris’ side 3-0 ahead. Aiden O’Brien got the fourth in the second half, his first in nine outings.
Harris paid tribute to the fans who made the trip, and reaffirmed his belief that the club are on the right track.
“It was brilliant – nearly 2,000 fans in the ground,” Harris said. “It’s been a tough year. To be relegated is tough but we’re building for the long term, not for today, not for tomorrow. It’s not about the Southend performance, it’s about where we’re going in the next two, three, four years.
“It’s great to see Fred on the scoresheet and perform outstandingly well. Aiden O’Brien is back, and that’s great because he’s had a little low. That’s how important it is, though, and they’re our future.
“If the players can perform like that week in, week out it gives us encouragement. Yes, it was a difficult first period of the season and we’re having ups and downs at the moment – but we’re going to continue with what we’re trying to achieve.”
Harris also gave an interesting insight into the mood of the squad the day after the disappointing 1-0 defeat to Walsall.
The Saddlers dominated possession in the opening stages of the game and went ahead through Milan Lalkovic’s 29th-minute goal.
The Lions forced their way back into it after the break and came close to equalising when O’Brien’s header struck the crossbar.
But Harris said that despite ending the year on a losing note at The Den, the spirit of his squad didn’t suffer.
He explained: “Funnily enough, we got beaten against Walsall but we were really positive. We came in (Sunday) and the place was buzzing.
“And I just said to the guys, ‘They’re top of the league for a reason – four years they’ve been planning for that.’ They play a style with the football, it’s a defensive style and they don’t give goals away.
“For large parts of the game we were better than them. It was a big effort without the ball but we had countless chances and didn’t take them against Walsall.
“They were upbeat, they knew they’d performed really well, especially in the second half. We showed them some clips of our shape when Walsall had the ball and they played a lot backwards and sideways.
“The stats proved that we had efforts on goal and that they defended really well. We got beaten but the boys weren’t down. I knew we had to be positive, but I knew we had to freshen the team up because some of the boys couldn’t go again.”
“(On Monday) the chances fell our way and we put them in the net.”
Onyedinma’s close-range finish against Southend was his first goal since the 2-2 draw at Wigan at the end of September and the youngster had been finding it difficult recently to replicate the form he showed earlier in the season.
Onyedinma, who only turned 19 in November, has already played 28 times this season and was also involved in two of the other goals on Monday afternoon.
Afterwards, Harris compared him to two legendary former Millwall wingers, describing his attacker as “unplayable”.
Harris said: “Supporters are so keen to do well, as keen as me, as keen as Fred. Fred’s in the same mould as Paul Ifill, Steven Reid. He’s a wide player who’s going to give the ball away. We ask him to be exciting. Our fans don’t want him to give the ball away… but when he gets it and runs with it they’re (cheering).
“We understand that and Fred understands that. It’s my job and my coaches’ job to make sure he retains the ball more often than not.
“But Fred’s brilliant. He’s the future. He wants to play every minute of every game. When he’s on song he can be unplayable.”