Millwall boss wants fringe players to grab chance

NEIL Harris is challenging players on the fringes of the Millwall first team to make an impact against Gillingham in the EFL Trophy group-stage clash on Tuesday night.

The Lions boss is likely to make changes to the side that lost 2-1 to Walsall on Saturday, though his options are reduced by injuries. Aiden O'Brien is out and defenders Shaun Cummings and Shaun Hutchinson are still three weeks away from first-team returns.

Harris gave full debuts to Noah Chesmain and Kris Twardek in the Lions' first game in Group H in the southern section of the competition when they defeated West Brom's U23s 2-0.

And he wants players who come into the side on Tuesday night to "drive the competition" for places before the league trip to Northampton on October 15.

"Young players will be given the opportunity to come in and play," Harris said. "Some because they deserve the opportunity to be able to take the shirt of someone who has been playing. Some players will come in who need some minutes, some who have trained well or who have played well with the U23s.

"Some will build from Saturday's performance and some will be left out because they look jaded or because they are out of form at the moment.

"I'm not changing my stance on this competition, it's an opportunity to blood some players and give them opportunities to perform.

"At this moment we haven't made wholesale changes in certain areas of the pitch because I don't always feel that when people have been given the opportunity they've grasped it. That's certainly something I'm looking at, for players to take their chance and give me food for thought to think, 'I can't leave them out'.

"It's not just goals, it's everything. You want to see people perform to the best of their ability, that if they're asked to do a job by me they go out and perform. There has certainly been a lack of form and consistency with certain players in recent weeks.

"When people have been given the opportunity to come into the team off the bench they haven't always grabbed it with two hands.

"So I'm really challenging players at the fringes to come and take shirts off people, and try to drive the competition on to push people to the best of their abilities."

After the cup clash with the Gills, Millwall will have 11 days to prepare for three games in a week when they will be trying to turn around their League One form. Harris admitted that is the priority, but he wants those who get their chance against Justin Edinburgh's side to help end a run of six games without a win.

He said: "The two Shauns both being injured has left us a little bit light on rotation. If someone has needed to come out of the team for a rest we haven't had the option to be able to change.

"I'm not only talking about the defence, I'm talking about the whole team. We had no David Worrall, no Aiden O'Brien (at Walsall), nor Harry Smith as a target-man option. We have been a little bit short of options. It'll be nice to have a fully-fit squad for competition for places. That will be key (Tuesday) – there will be an opportunity to impress to stay in the team.

"We're striving for some form and consistency, it would be lovely to go into the international break with a win (Tuesday) night. It's giving people the opportunity to impress, and it's down to individuals to perform.

"The bigger picture is Northampton, Bolton, Fleetwood, all within seven days when we get back next week.

"I see this as an opportunity to try to build some momentum, but the focus is the league at the moment and trying to get some results to build confidence."

Image source: ©Millwall FC

John Kelly