Millwall boss: Step-up to Championship was huge – affecting chances for young players

NEIL Harris has revealed Millwall retaining their Championship status was a factor in the release of a number of younger players this summer.

The likes of Kris Twardek, Harry Girling, Jamie Philpot and Harry Smith left the club after the end of their contracts.

Millwall strengthened considerably last summer after promotion from League One, recruiting eight first-team players. That pushed those on the fringes further out of the picture.

Professional Development squad regulars Noah Chesmain, Christian Mbulu (above), Noel Leighton and Kristian Brymora also departed, meaning under-23 boss Kevin Nugent will have a much more inexperienced squad next season.

But that’s the club’s plan, with the development of younger players the focus rather than results.

Harris is also set to give first-team chances to the likes of Danny McNamara, Ryan Sandford and Lewis White in pre-season friendly fixtures.

“There could be opportunities for some of the younger players to be involved, and then it’s down to them,” Harris said.

“We will have a younger under-23 squad this year. We have let some players go this summer that possibly had we been in League One would have been kept on and had half a chance.

“But we decided to be fair to them and give them the opportunity to go and play some pro football somewhere else.

“That’s why we have a younger squad, which means the under-23s won’t be successful this year. But there will be chances for under-18s to play with the 23s and 23s to get experience playing football every week as well as train with the first team.

Right-back Danny McNamara as a 16-year-old against Dover in 2016.

“It took us all by surprise last year the step-up from League One to Championship. It surprised a lot of the younger lads the step-up in the levels of our training sessions after we had recruited good players.

“It’s a very difficult step from our 23s into our first team. I look at our players at the moment, you have Tom King, Sid Nelson and James Brown, to mention just three, that have to try to bridge that gap to get into our first team.

“We’re trying to find the best way of doing that. Tom has gone to AFC Wimbledon on loan, Sid and James will either be around the first-team group or they will head out as well to get them minutes to edge them nearer through more experience.

“Then the lads down from them, the younger ones – Harry Donovan is a great example – will be going out to play Conference football in the near future to gain some experience.

“It’s a big step. I like to work with a 20-man squad but there are opportunities for younger players to impress every day on the training pitch. Not just me but to impress their peers.”

Meanwhile, Twardek this week signed an 18-month deal with League of Ireland side Sligo Rovers.

Image: Millwall FC 

John Kelly