NEIL Harris admitted he had had to make some tough selection calls for the opening game of the season – after three of Millwall’s play-off final back four missed out against Nottingham Forest.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the omission of Byron Webster, with Jake Cooper starting in the centre of defence alongside Shaun Hutchinson just a week after his move from Reading.
Club captain Tony Craig – who made more appearances than any Lions player last season – was on the bench, while Mahlon Romeo missed out on the match-day squad.
“There were some really tough calls,” Harris said. “Mahlon Romeo travelled and didn’t make the bench. It’s hard for all of us.
“I left Byron out, I’ve got three really good centre-halves. My gut feeling was to go with Hutch and Coops, and I thought they were excellent.
“But what three top centre-halves I’ve got, and one has to miss out. Obviously Byron is disappointed, he’s a top lad and top pro who has done really well for me. It’s up to him to force his way back in.
“Hutch has been outstanding since January, arguably our best player in pre-season also.
“Tony Craig, club captain, last year after a difficult start he had an immense finish to the season, scored a really important goal at Bristol and lifted the trophy at Wembley.
“I have to make tight calls if we want to compete at this level. It’s a squad game. As a footballer in the goldfish bowl, you want to be in that first game. You want to play at The City Ground.
“We’re going to have 50 games this year, maybe more. Everyone has got a massive part to play.”
Millwall created a goal-scoring chance once every five minutes against Forest, yet somehow came away with nothing, losing to Barrie McKay's 41st-minute strike.
Forest boss Mark Warburton admitted his side had been fortunate to win, while Harris wants his to be more “ruthless”.
There was controversy 14 minutes from time when Steve Morison’s goal was ruled out for a push on goalkeeper Jordan Smith by Lee Gregory. Morison also hit the crossbar in the first half, George Saville clipped a post early on and Jed Wallace was denied by Smith in a one-on-one after the break.
Millwall were still pressing in the 95th minute, but their night was summed up when Fred Onyedinma headed just past the post.
Gregory arguably had the best chance of the evening, but fired over with most of the goal to aim at in the 51st minute.
“He’ll be gutted, he’s a goal-scorer and thrives on scoring goals,” Harris said. “He will score goals at this level, he’s proved [Friday night] he will get chances. Steve has put one in the net, it was disallowed and he had chances. Aiden [O'Brien] should have scored one in the first half.
“George could have had a couple, Jed had two good chances and should have scored. Gregs had chances, Fred had a header at the end and should have scored.
“It’s a team game, everyone had an opportunity and it’ll come.
“We might not have had a better performance while I have been in charge, we might not play that well again this year but we’ll certainly win a lot of games.
“We have to take it on the chin.
“I said to the guys beforehand, ‘respect the level, respect Nottingham Forest – but we can compete’.
“But we have to ruthless. I don’t want to have to go in after games and say, ‘well played, lads, unlucky’. We have to have the full package.
“I left the group in no uncertain terms – brilliant performance, but we can be better. We got 90 per cent there, we need that last 10 per cent.
“It’s no fault of anyone. What great play at times, but it just didn’t happen for us. It will, though, because they are goal-scorers.
“It’s a really good performance and I’ll wake up tomorrow and the glass will be half full. The players will be positive.
"All season it’s about reaction. We conceded a goal and didn’t go under, the five minutes before half-time we were really strong.
“The second half we chased the game and left gaps but kept going. They’re a really good group of lads and some really good players in there as well.
“It now becomes about the reaction Tuesday night. Our home form is going to be critical this year, that starts against Stevenage. I want to win the game, want a win at The Den and take momentum going into Bolton and Ipswich.”
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