So, here we go again, then.
After relegation from the Sky Bet Championship last season, Millwall go into the new League One season a completely different outfit – eighteen players were shown the door over the summer, with a clutch of kids making the step up from the youth/reserve teams, ready to make their mark.
It promises to be a very interesting season one way or another; will the young Lions stamp their authority on the division, or will the lack of experience be telling? The next nine months will reveal all.
However, before that all begins, lets go back in time to the 2008/09 season.
After flirting with relegation to League Two in the previous campaign under the guidance of Willie Donachie, Kenny Jackett steered the Millwall ship towards safety with a few games to go, ultimately sealing survival with a 3-0 victory over Carlisle at The Den, in which Neil Harris turned back the clock, producing a vintage performance and earning himself a new contract in the process.
There was to be a hive of transfer activity over the summer, with Chris Zebroski and Bas Savage joining Wycombe Wanderers and Tranmere Rovers respectively, whilst Jackett brought in youngster Ashley Grimes from Manchester City, as well as the now household names of Nadjim Abdou and David Forde from Plymouth Argyle and Cardiff City, both on free transfers. At the beginning of pre-season, Tony Craig returned from Crystal Palace to the tune of £125,000.
A final bit of pre-season business was completed by Jackett the day before the final pre-season friendly (a 1-0 defeat at Exeter City), with forward Tresor Kandol arriving from Leeds United on loan.
The campaign began on August 9th with a ding-dong in the rain at Oldham Athletic. Forde, Abdou and Kandol all made their Lions debuts, with the frontman opening his – and Millwall’s – account after mere seconds. In extraordinary circumstances, Andy Liddell equalised for Oldham a minute later, but an own goal from Reuben Hazell, coupled with a Lewis Grabban strike gave the Lions a 3-1 lead after 56 minutes. However, it all went pear-shaped after Paul Robinson saw red, with the Lactics scoring three times in the final seventeen minutes of the game, snatching a win from the jaws of defeat, leaving the 510 travelling fans as sick as parrots on the long journey home.
Jason Crowe’s 15th minute winner sent Northampton Town into the Second Round of the League Cup at the expense of Millwall three days later, before Ahmet Brkovic’s injury-time equaliser saved the season beginning with three straight defeats against Southend United at The Den on August 16th. David Forde’s howler allowed Alex Revell to tap home in the 7th minute, but Brkovic spared the ‘keeper’s blushes shortly before the final whistle.
Northampton provided the opposition once again a week later, with a goalless draw leaving some fans questioning whether Jackett was the man to take Millwall forward. The boss dipped into his knowledge of Manchester City’s youth team again, with winger Karl Moore joining Ashley Grimes at the club at the end of August. Moore made his debut as the Lions defeated Huddersfield Town 2-1, but finished the first month of the season in the bottom three, despite Kandol and Grabban’s strikes.
David Perkins’ well-struck shot ensured that the Lions suffered a second consecutive home cup defeat, this time in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, in front of just 2,456 fans at The Den.
The defeat to the U’s was to be the last for five games, as Jackett’s men strung together four straight wins, with victories over Hartlepool United (2-0), Leicester City (1-0), Cheltenham Town (2-0) and Swindon Town (2-1) seeing the Lions catapulted from the bottom three to fifth position at the end of September.
Jermaine Easter joined on loan from Plymouth between the Cheltenham and Swindon games and was promptly sent off at the County Ground, despite opening the scoring in the 24th minute. Gary Alexander found his shooting boots during the winning run, netting three times.
October 4th brought a disastrous afternoon to The Den, as MK Dons ran away from SE16 with a 4-0 victory, complete with a comical Paul Robinson own-goal. Sam Baldock’s double, along with Sean O’Hanlon’s opener, ensured that Robbo’s unfortunate mistake, in which he passed the ball back to David Forde without looking, resulting in the ball going the opposite way to the ‘keeper, adding an unneeded gloss to the scoreline.
Ryan Smith departed for Southampton the day before the MK Dons match, with Gifton Noel-Williams arriving in the opposite direction from Elche. Noel-Williams produced an awful debut performance and was rarely seen again in a Millwall shirt.
Jackett’s charges dusted themselves down after their horror show and pieced together another winning run, this time a trio of victories over Tranmere Rovers (3-1), Leeds United (3-1) and Colchester United (2-1). The win over Colchester momentarily sent the Lions to the top of the table, but it was to be the success over Leeds that would be the most memorable. Luciano Becchio gave the Yorkshire side the lead, but Dave Martin hit straight back for Millwall, before Neil Harris rolled back the years with a brace – the second from an impossible angle – to give the Lions victory.
Scunthorpe became the latest club to stop the charge, winning 3-2 at Glanford Park in a promotion six-pointer, before Lewis Grabban’s 86th minute winner spared Millwall’s blushes on a bitterly cold October night against basement boys Hereford United.
As the tenth month of the year passed and November began, Dave Brammer and Gifton Noel-Williams joined Port Vale and Yeovil respectively, with tough-tackling midfielder, Adam Bolder, joining on loan from Queens Park Rangers.
A miserable day in Brighton was topped off by an even more miserable performance, as 853 Lions fans saw the Lions forfeit against Brighton and Hove Albion, going down by four goals to one in the pouring rain at the Withdean Stadium. That crushing defeat sparked Jackett’s men into action, however, as the next defeat would come as far away as nine games later.
The proverbial FA Cup banana skin was avoided on November 8th, as goals in the final fourteen minutes from Grabban, Harris and Grimes gave the Lions a 3-0 win at Chester City, before Dave Martin’s 74th minute strike captured the three points against Stockport County at The Den.
2,262 fans made the trip across London to Brisbane Road, Leyton Orient on the 22nd, but were treated to a goalless draw, before Tresor Kandol’s injury-time winner snatched the points away from Carlisle United three days later. Aldershot were disposed of on the way to the FA Cup Third Round on the 29th, as a Gary Alexander double was finished off by Ashley Grimes in a 3-0 win for the Lions.
The Third Round pitted Millwall with Crewe Alexandra, but before that, there was more business to do in the league. The Lions sat in 3rd place as December began and a 3-2 win over Bristol Rovers at The Den did their position no harm. Tresor Kandol notched another two strikes in the 5th and 18th minutes, before Alexander secured the three points with eighteen minutes to go.
The wins just kept on coming and on December 13th, history was made. As the Lions travelled to Walsall, Neil Harris sat just one goal behind Teddy Sheringham’s all-time scoring record. In the 16th minute, they were equal. In true predatory style, Harris sharply turned in the box and fired past Saddlers’ ‘keeper, Clayton Ince, to become a joint record holder. Andy Frampton’s 89th minute winner cancelled out Alex Nicholl’s equaliser, sparking wild celebrations in the away end of the Bescot Stadium, pushing Millwall into the top two of the League One table.
The Lions were to falter slightly over Christmas, with a goalless draw against future FA Cup opponents, Crewe, doing nothing for the pursuit of promotion, before a Boxing Day defeat to Peterborough United, with Aaron McLean scoring the only goal of the game, left Lions fans with a scowl on their faces whilst eating their cold turkey sandwiches.
A 1-1 draw on December 28th against Yeovil Town meant that Millwall finished 2008 in 5th place. 2009 would bring a trip to Premier League opposition in the FA Cup, but more importantly, it would end in Play-off heartbreak.
Part Two in the next issue!