Millwall manager Neil Harris makes demand for Championship run-in

NEIL Harris has called on the players currently out of the first-team reckoning to grasp their opportunities if they come and do their bit help Millwall avoid relegation.

Lions vice-captain Shaun Hutchinson has recently lost his place in the side, while David Martin has taken over from Jordan Archer in goal.

James Meredith, who started all 46 league games last season, has seen Murray Wallace and then Shane Ferguson jump ahead of him in the pecking order.

Some Lions players haven’t lived up to their billing, with Jiri Skalak starting just four league games following his move from Brighton last summer.

There were high hopes that Fred Onyedinma’s loan spell at Wycombe would bring on his development in the same way Ben Thompson’s stint at Portsmouth has, but the former has played only eight minutes for Millwall in 2019.

Alex Pearce had to wait for his chance but then took it emphatically and captained the side in the 2-0 win at Birmingham before scoring his first Millwall goal against Brighton last Sunday.

Ferguson’s red card in that game, which Millwall didn’t appeal, means he is suspended for three fixtures, which is set to give Meredith his chance.

Right-back Conor McLaughlin hasn’t featured since November, but returned to the bench against the Seagulls.

Millwall have one of the smallest squads in the division, and it is already stretched with Wallace and Tom Bradshaw injured, and others such as Skalak and Onyedinma out of form.

But Harris believes every player will have a part to play as Millwall aim to make sure they extend their Championship stay into at least a third straight season.

“The eleven players on the pitch against Brighton performed exceptionally well, but we’ve also seen the importance of having players to come off the bench and influence things on the pitch,” Harris said.

“You’ve seen the importance of Steve Morison coming on in games this season. We’ve had players come into the side to perform outstandingly well.

“Ben Thompson and Ben Marshall will be back and there are others who haven’t been in the team who have got to make sure they’re ready.

“People like Hutch, Mezza, Tom Elliott, Jiri Skalak, Macca, they’ve all got to make sure they’re at their very best and if they get a chance that they take it and perform.”

Millwall have two weeks to prepare for the trip to Leeds on March 30. They conceded two goals after the 88th minute against Brighton, a fault that has haunted them a number of times from the opening day against Middlesbrough when they let a 2-0 lead slip with three minutes left to draw the game.

Harris hinted at summer defensive changes to rectify that weakness.

He said: “It’s not something you can address over short a period of time, we’ll look at it in the summer.

“For now the focus is on making sure that everyone understands how important the coming weeks are, and that they have to be at the best of their ability to get the results that we need.”

A potential summer defensive signing is Pearce, but Harris isn’t speculating on a move for the Derby player.

Harris said: “He’s done really well coming here on a deal until the end of the season. He’s a real leader and has shown his leadership qualities for us, and he’s a very good player.

“We need all our players to perform and be at their best. Alex will be competing with Shaun and Jake [Cooper] for the centre-back positions between now and the end of the season, and that’s the focus.”

Image: Millwall FC 

John Kelly