NEIL Harris admitted the Millwall dressing room was “wounded” by criticism following four league games without a win that saw them drop out of the top six.
Millwall got their play-off chances back on track with a comprehensive and confident 3-1 win over Scunthorpe on Saturday, cutting the gap to one of their promotion rivals to four points.
Despite not winning in five games in all competitions, Millwall never looked like they were carrying any mental baggage, nor did they appear under pressure knowing Scunthorpe would have gone 10 points clear of them had they lost
Millwall started with energy and intent, and were ahead within three minutes when, in the absence of Lee Gregory through injury, Shaun Williams scored from the spot after Paddy Madden had fouled Shaun Hutchinson.
For Scunthorpe, only striker Ivan Toney, and Josh Morris from free-kicks, threatened Millwall’s goal.
Shane Ferguson scored in the 57th minute and Aiden O’Brien flicked home his 14th of the campaign – one better than in all of last season – before Matt Crooks headed past Tom King in the 93rd minute, the last action of the game.
“We focused on not just a performance but a mentality against Scunthorpe because they are a big physical team who press really well, they’re aggressive in their approach,” Harris explained. “We knew at home we had to match that and run past them, and I thought from the first whistle the players were outstanding.
“They won their individual battles, won the collective battle. We picked up more second balls, won more headers and knocked them off their feet, in a fair manner of course.
“I thought we were excellent and we had some really, really good moments of quality as well. Obviously the two goals in the second half showed that.
“The dressing room has been a bit wounded, to be honest, with the criticism and you saw a reaction today. I said to them, ‘at home, play with an intensity, play with an aggression, and put in a Millwall performance’.
“You saw that in the group, and you saw good game management as well. There were some big tackles out there and we managed the situations really well. Our tempo and play at the right time was really good. At times we had to slow it down and that’s where senior players can really take the lead.
“The message to the players here is if you play like a Millwall team then results take care of themselves.
“We knew Scunthorpe wouldn’t come and sit back like other teams this year. We knew they would have a go at us. We knew we’d have to match that.
“But I’d seen enough against Sheffield United over 90 minutes, and certainly in the last 25 when we were outstanding, to know that we could compete and match them and then have the quality to score the goals.”
Millwall’s authority over their opponents was illustrated in the first half when Steve Morison left David Mirfin on the turf after a strong challenge, and in the second when he flung the Iron’s other centre-back, Murray Wallace, to the ground. Morison was booked, but the challenge had been laid down.
Morison’s striker partner O’Brien was also at his vibrant best and his goal, a flick with the outside of his right boot from Tony Craig’s cross, was one of his most impressive this season.
Harris said: “I thought Aiden got better as the game went on in that position. His finish after a great team move was outstanding.
“Steve Morison was back to his best today. He led the line and carried the fight for us against two really tough centre-halves.
“Of course we’d like Lee back as soon as possible but I was really pleased with the front pairing today. At this stage of the season everyone is losing players to suspension or injury but fortunately we’ve got a squad assembled that we can fill positions.
“I was putting a Millwall team on the pitch today and the players who aren’t known for aggression and fight and tackles, like Shane, Jed [Wallace] and Aiden, gave it to me.
“I said to the players there are two lessons from that: If we’re at our Millwall best then we are very hard to live with. And secondly, if we switch off for any moment during the game, anybody at this stage of the season can score past you.
“Today, if I were summing it up, it was a really top Millwall performance.”
Image: Millwall FC