After winning promotion via a win over Swindon Town in the 2010 League One play-off final, Millwall, led by Kenny Jackett, embarked on life back in the Championship in the 2010/11 campaign.
As ever, there was a flurry of activity in the transfer market, as the Lions looked to mould their perfect squad for the first season back in the second tier. David Martin left to join Derby County on June 1st, for a fee in the region of £150,000-£200,000, whilst shortly before the opening game, Gary Alexander completed a move to Brentford.
Seven players joined to bolster Jackett’s squad, as Liam Trotter, Shaun Batt, Tamika Mkandawire, Steve Mildenhall and James Henry all signed for the club on permanent deals, whilst striker, Kevin Lisbie and midfielder, Darren Carter, were loaned to the Lions from Ipswich Town and Preston North End respectively.
The season opened up on a grey day in the west country, as Bristol City played host. With the Lions being among the favourites for relegation, the year couldn’t have started any better, as goals from Darren Ward, Danny Schofield and Paul Robinson handed Millwall a 3-0 win – a victory that saw City manager, Steve Coppell, exit the club shortly afterwards.
The Lions needed extra time to see off Wycombe Wanderers in the First Round of the League Cup, but did so thanks to Alan Dunne’s 105th minute winner, after Neil Harris had opened the scoring early on, only to be cancelled out by Ben Strevens’ equaliser for the home team. Jackett’s men made it three straight wins the following Saturday, as Hull City were demolished 4-0 at the Den, as strikes from Steve Morison (2), Lisbie and Trotter sent the Lions to the top of the table.
A 3-1 defeat to Leeds United did little to dampen spirits as another unbeaten run started with a League Cup Second Round victory over Middlesbrough, thanks to a Morison penalty and a Trotter strike; for the record, ex-Lion, Scott McDonald, scored the ‘Boro goal that night!
Coventry City were then beaten 3-1 at The Den, before two draws (1-1 v Nottingham Forest and 0-0 v Reading) ensured that Millwall went into mid-September in the play-off places, having lost only one of their opening eight games in all competitions.
Before the draw with the Royals, Andy Frampton moved out on loan to Leyton Orient, whilst the manager sought to bring in Theo Robinson on loan from Huddersfield Town, to boost the attacking options available to him.
It was going so well for the Lions, but on September 18th, they came back down to earth with an almighty crash, as Watford took a 6-1 victory home with them from south London. On a disastrous day for all involved, Liam Trotter’s 56th minute consolation was all the Lions could muster, as the Hornets ran riot.
Two further defeats followed, as Ipswich dumped Millwall out of the League Cup at the Third Round stage, before Andy Keogh’s (yes, him) 89th minute winner secured Cardiff City a 2-1 victory over the Lions, moving them down to 9th in the table.
The ship was steadied going into October, as a goalless night with Queens Park Rangers preceded a 1-1 draw with Burnley in Millwall’s 125th anniversary match. Following that, Theo Robinson became the hero, as the Lions defeated Crystal Palace in their own back yard; Robinson’s 53rd minute header sent the 4,895 fans in attendance home very, very happy.
Four defeats in the next six followed, with Portsmouth (0-1), Ipswich Town (0-2), Doncaster Rovers (1-2) and Sheffield United (0-1) all taking maximum points, with just the one win coming in a 2-0 victory over Derby County. A 1-1 draw with Norwich City – complete with 94th minute John Marquis equaliser – meant the Lions sat in 17th place in the table in mid-November.
During that period, Danny Shittu joined the club on a three-month contract after previously being with Bolton Wanderers, whilst Andy Frampton switched loan allegiances from Leyton Orient to Swindon Town. Lewis Grabban also went out on loan, joining Brentford.
Kenny Jackett swooped to bring in Calvin Andrew and Jason Puncheon on loan from Crystal Palace and Southampton respectively before the Lions’ trip to Middlesbrough on November 20th and both played their part in a hard-fought victory, as Puncheon’s strike in the 25th minute proved to be the only goal of the afternoon, stopping the rot and kick-starting an eight-match unbeaten run, propelling the club back up to the fringes of the play-off places.
Before the trip to Preston North End, Jackett dipped into the transfer market once more to bring Josh McQuoid, a striker from AFC Bournemouth, to the club to the tune of £350,000. The game at Deepdale finished goalless, but McQuoid made his debut a week later, as the Lions defeated Scunthorpe United 3-0, live on Sky. James Henry opened the scoring for Millwall, before a Steve Morison double within the last nine minutes put the gloss on the score-line.
Tamika Mkndawire scored his first Lions goal just six days later, as the Lions ground out a 1-1 draw at promotion hopefuls, Swansea City, before a three-game Christmas period proved extremely fruitful, with seven points out of nine being won, courtesy of a draw against Portsmouth on Boxing Day (1-1) and two wins over Leicester City (2-0) and local rivals, Crystal Palace (3-0), as a Jason Puncheon hat-trick ensured that the Lions would do the double over their neighbours in their first season back in the second tier.
January proved to be a busy month transfer wise for Jackett, as Theo Robinson’s move from Huddersfield Town was made permanent (for a fee of around £300,000), with Jens Berthel-Askou, Craig Eastmond and Hamer Bouazza all joining on loan throughout the month. As well as that, Darren Purse signed for his boyhood team, after being without a club for a while, after his release from Sheffield Wednesday. Marc Laird and Lewis Grabban proved to be the only outs, as both joined Brentford – Laird on loan, Grabban permanently.
The Lions gained a point at Derby County as 2011 got underway, but they were unceremoniously dumped out of the FA Cup at the first attempt by Birmingham City, as the Premier League Blues won 4-1; Danny Schofield’s injury-time goal proved to be no more than a consolation.
Schofield scored again the following week, as goals from him and Morison defeated Ipswich Town 2-1. Berthel-Askou’s Millwall career did not last as much as 90 minutes, as the next Saturday, his red card at Leicester City played its part in a 4-2 defeat for the Lions, before a 2-0 win over Barnsley on a freezing cold night at The Den continued the clubs erratic form as January came to a close.
The next three games were to be a tale of injury-time drama; Henri Lansbury’s 94th minute winner broke Lions’ hearts on February 1st, as Norwich City snatched a 2-1 win, before the tables were turned, as an own-goal handed Millwall a 1-0 win over Doncaster Rovers at The Den in the 91st minute. On February 12th, Alex Bogdanovic’s 77th minute penalty was cancelled out by Kevin Lisbie’s 90th minute equaliser, as the Lions kept on the heels of the top six.
Seven days later, Bouazza announced his arrival on an explosive afternoon in SE16, as an expertly struck free-kick – along with Neil Harris’ opener – played its part in a 3-2 defeat by Middlesbrough, which was not short of major controversy.
The 22nd saw Theo Robinson join Derby County on loan, with a view to a permanent transfer in the summer, but the night belonged to another striker, as Neil Harris scored his 138th and final Millwall goal in a 2-1 defeat to Reading at the Mad Stad. A goalless draw at home to Nottingham Forest and a single-goal defeat at Watford caused Kenny Jackett to go looking for more attacking options – in Andros Townsend, he certainly found one.
The Spurs loanee produced an eye-catching performance, as the Lions dispatched the league leaders, QPR, 2-0 on a red-hot night at The Den, which included a sending off for Danny Shittu – who had rejected Millwall earlier in the season due to financial reasons – for bringing down Steve Morison on goal.
Townsend endeared himself to the Lions faithful once more a few days later, as he opened his account in a sensational 3-0 win at Burnley, with Paul Robinson scoring the other two goals; a rare feat!
The good results continued, as goals from Trotter, Lisbie (pen) and Morison captured Millwall a point in a ding-dong with Cardiff City (3-3), before two more wins (Hull City (1-0) & Leeds United (3-2)) sent the Lions to the cusp of the top six once more.
Hamer Bouazza’s move was made permanent in mid-April as the club looked to make a last-ditch assault on the play-offs, but a goalless draw, followed by a 2-1 defeat at Coventry City (complete with Neil Harris’ not-so-finest hour – coming on as a half-time substitute and seeing red just three minutes later) meant the Lions slipped out of contention as the last few games of the season came into sight.
A televised 4-0 win over Preston North End and a 2-1 win over Scunthorpe United – with goals from Marquis in each – meant that Millwall still mathematically had a chance of a place in the top six, but the season ended with a footballing lesson from Swansea City at The Den (0-2) and a 1-0 defeat at Barnsley, meaning they finished the campaign in a very respectable 9th place.
The Barnsley game was significant for Neil Harris, as it proved to be his 431st and final appearance in a Lions shirt.
Kenny Jackett’s men didn’t manage to make the play-offs in their first season back in the Championship, but they certainly gave it a good go. There were some good memories created during the 2010/11 campaign – the wins over Bristol City and Hull City at the beginning of the year, the win over QPR or the victory over Leeds; but most importantly, the double over Palace!