GEORGE Alexander and Billy Mitchell were given debuts after “exceptional” underage seasons, Neil Harris said.
Striker Alexander and defensive midfielder Mitchell (above, left) were handed their first senior appearances as second-half substitutes in the 1-0 defeat to Wigan on the final day of the Championship season on Sunday.
But Harris warned that both would have to earn their first-team chances again at the start of the 2019-20 campaign.
“I’m delighted for the opportunities the young players got, but young players only get their opportunity when they deserve their opportunity,” Harris said.
“I never feel pressured by the fan base to play young players. I always pick the team on merit. If you look at the two players I’ve picked, two young lads, it’s because between them and the first team there’s such a big gap that we can only play young players when they warrant playing.
“If they’re not good enough to play in the first team they won’t be here. George and Billy got the opportunity today because they have been exceptional in the under-18s this year.
“We need to produce better players to play in the first team. But that’s not just Millwall, that’s English football. The Championship is such a difficult level to blood young players in. Those boys haven’t earned the right to be in the squad next season, they’ll have to earn the right at the start of next season.
“I thought it was more fitting today to give them an opportunity than to give players an opportunity that won’t be here next year. I think that’s the clear message and I think everyone will understand that.
“It was very pleasing to give two Millwall boys their debuts and I hope this is the start for them and they keep progressing.”
Joe Garner scored the only goal of the game at the DW Stadium. Millwall missed several chances to level, but Harris was pleased with the attitude of his side given they had little to play for.
Harris said: “I quite enjoyed the game, it was quite entertaining, wasn’t it? For a neutral it was entertaining, it could have been four-all.
“We had chances but couldn’t score, summed up with Ryan Tunnicliffe’s open-goal miss at the start of the second half.
“We played a lot more expansive football, passed the ball a lot more than we have done in the last period. I just said to the players about passing a little bit more, I knew it was going to be more open and that we’d give a few chances away. But I wasn’t too fussed by that today.
“I’m pleased with what we created, some of our football was outstanding at times. We got into really good areas but didn’t get the ball in the net. We need to be better next season.
“We were really good at times against Bristol City on Tuesday. It was a good performance today in terms of attitude and application, that was outstanding, but some of the quality as well was good.
“Again, it’s another close game that we’ve lost this season. There was nothing in the game and we’ve just fallen the wrong side of the scoreline.
“I’ve not looked back at the fixtures this season and the results to see how close they all were, but gut feeling and memory tells me most games we’ve lost have been by the odd goal.
“That’s just where you end up needing slightly better players than you’ve got.”
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