Former Millwall striker reveals why his admiration for Harris goes beyond football

By Lucas Ball

FORMER Millwall striker Gary Alexander believes the Lions can reach the play-offs – and says Neil Harris deserves all the credit that comes his way.

Alexander said the job that Harris has done is “just unbelievable”, but he is not surprised as he always recognised his former strike partner was “a leader”.

Alexander, who played 104 times for the club from 2007 to 2010 and scored 25 goals – including a double in the 2009 League One play-off final that Millwall lost 3-2 to Scunthorpe – acknowledged that the side must keep up their current run to be in with a chance of contesting an end-of-season shootout for a third successive campaign.

“Who knows? At the moment they are on a charge and, at the end of the day, everybody knows we need to keep winning,” Alexander, now manager of Ashford United in Isthmian League South, said. “If we do lose a game, then that could spell the end of it.

“But it’s credit to Neil for doing a great job. Everybody knows what he is working with so the job he is doing is just unbelievable. When you think of some of the sides that we have been playing and beating at The Den, Neil deserves every bit of credit as their budgets are much greater than ours.

“Neil was always a leader, he was doing his coaching badges when we were still playing and he has taken to management like a duck to water. He learned his trade with the younger sides and progressed through to the first team, and is now doing a fantastic job.”

The Lions have enjoyed a superb first season back in the Championship, in large part because of the spirit and togetherness that Harris has created in the dressing room.

“First things first, you need to earn the players’ respect,” Alexander continued. “I spend quite a bit of time at the training ground. I go down there once every week or two to see Neil and all the boys. I think he has earned that respect, they have got trust in how he wants to play and work, and they are reaping the rewards for that.

Millwall's win at Barnsley moved them to within four points of sixth.

“You never know how it’s going to pan out, but he has created an atmosphere in the dressing room which is second to none. The boys are used to winning games now and long may that continue.

“As a friend of mine and someone I have played with, you can only wish him all the best and hope things like this happen.”

Given how much Millwall have overachieved this season, and how unlikely a play-off challenge seemed when they were 19th in the table at the end of November, Alexander is surprised their run hasn’t garnered more widespread attention.

But he thinks that might suit them.

He said: “The quieter Millwall go along, the happier Neil will be. Without even having an eye on the teams above, he wanted to get to 50 points and anything else was a bonus because that meant Millwall would stay in the Championship. So whatever else he achieves now will certainly be a bonus.

“You look at what he is working with and the size of some of the clubs in there that have had spells in the Premier League. They have had parachute payments [money distributed to relegated clubs over three years] and it becomes hard for Millwall. But he is competing and he is four points off the play-offs.

“Three months ago we were looking behind us and now we are looking up. Can we catch the teams up there? Time will tell.”

Whatever happens, Alexander’s admiration for Harris is huge, and goes beyond football.

“Neil is someone I have played with, a friend, someone I speak to, someone who has never stopped me going to the training ground to watch training,” Alexander said. “I can knock on his door and have a chat with him.

“Everything Neil gets, he deserves. If he was to win [another play-off final], I would be very happy for him.”

Image: Millwall FC