LEE Gregory has thanked Neil Harris for standing by him “through thick and thin” – and believes the future is bright for the Lions.
Gregory will depart this summer when his contract runs out after five seasons at the club.
He was top scorer in all competitions in four of those seasons – either side of Steve Morison in 2016-17 – and was offered a lucrative new deal by the club earlier in the season.
But Gregory was keen to move back up north. He is Sheffield-born and has a young family. At 30, he probably has just one more chance of a big move, and a big signing-on fee, to set himself up for life after football.
Gregory was given a rapturous sending-off by Lions fans at the DW Stadium when he was substituted for George Alexander. Reaction from Millwall fans online has also been positive as they recognise what he gave to the club with his attitude, work ethic and goals.
He shouldered the majority of the attacking burden this season with Steve Morison used less, Tom Elliott struggling with form and injury and Tom Bradshaw out since November.
Gregory showed his ability as a lone striker in the latter half of the campaign, developing a promising combination with Ben Thompson, who supported the attacker from an advanced midfield role.
Gregory then renewed his partnership with Morison in Millwall’s last game at The Den this season against Bristol City. The pair, so crucial in Millwall’s play-off channels in the three previous seasons, linked up when Morison headed on Jake Cooper’s ball and Gregory got thirteenth goal of the campaign.
It was Gregory’s flicked header from Shaun Williams’ cross that gave Morison the chance to stab home Millwall’s winning goal in the 2017 League One play-off final against Bradford.
Gregory was asked after last Sunday’s game for the highlights from his Millwall career.
“There’s loads, I don’t think I’ve got enough time,” he replied. “The highest point of my career was winning at Wembley. That was one of the best days in my career and it will stay with me forever.
“Millwall’s been a massive part of my career, it’s been great. The highs when they did come along have been that good that they [exceed] the lows.”
Gregory was relatively late to the second tier when then-Lions boss Ian Holloway plucked him from the Conference Premier after he had helped Halifax to the play-off semi-finals in May 2014.
Neil Harris took over on a caretaker basis from Holloway in March the following year, and Gregory scored a hat-trick in a 3-3 draw against Derby four days before Harris was named permanent manager.
“I like to think [I’ve progressed] quite far,” Gregory continued. “Credit goes to the staff at Millwall. Since Neil’s come in he’s been great with me.
“He stuck by me through thick and thin, he’s been class. Whatever happens in the summer I’m just thankful to the lads and to the staff.”
Gregory also paid tribute to the fans after the reception they gave him at Wigan.
“It wasn’t bad, eh?!” he joked. “The fans have been with us all season. They’re class.”
While Gregory heads for the exit, Alexander and Billy Mitchell, who also made his Millwall debut, could be the future.
Gregory believes the club’s supporters should be positive about the players coming through.
“The young lads coming in, Billy and George, they’re two great players coming in so it’s looking good for Millwall,” Gregory said.
“It’s exciting for the fans.”
Millwall lost to Joe Garner’s goal last weekend, but Gregory was pleased that they achieved safety this season.
“Obviously there was nothing to play for, it was unfortunately just a going-through-the-motions game.
“But we achieved what we wanted to this season, however it’s come. The aim was to stay up and we’ve done that so we’re very happy.
“We worked hard. It was never going to be as easy – well, it wasn’t easy – but it was never going to be as good as last season. We knew it was going to be hard. The guys just knuckled down and we got there in the end.
“It’s pleasing to know this summer that Millwall’s got another season in the Championship.”
Gregory’s top three goals
2015-16 League One play-off semi-final first leg
Bradford 1-3 Millwall
Bradford went ahead in the 13th minute through Tony McMahon’s penalty. But two minutes later Steve Morison headed down to Gregory who produced a typical finish on the turn.
Gregory also scored in the second leg as Millwall completed the job with a 1-1 draw at The Den.
2016-17 League One play-off semi-final second leg
Scunthorpe 2-3 Millwall
Millwall were back in the play-offs the next year and Scunthorpe were favourites after a 0-0 draw at The Den in the first leg.
The Iron then went a goal up, but after StMorison equalised the Lions captain then set up Gregory to make it 2-1. Morison added the third and Millwall were through to Wembley.
Millwall 4-0 Norwich
We've picked it because it showed the Morison-Gregory combination at its most effective, and because it helped Millwall to their first win in their first season back in the Championship.
Ruthlessly effective and efficient: Shaun Williams’ long ball forward was nodded on by Morison into the path of his strike partner running into the box. Gregory took a touch and with his next slid the ball under Angus Gunn.
Image: Millwall FC