Neil Harris vows to restore Millwall identity after Joe Edwards experiment turns sour

Back: Neil Harris ( )
Back: Neil Harris ( )

Millwall’s experiment with a progressive young manager lasted a little over 100 days, with Joe Edwards sacked on Wednesday and replaced by fan-favourite Neil Harris, who returned to the Den four-and-a-half years after he resigned.

Edwards permanently succeeded Gary Rowett on November 6 and was tasked with modernising Millwall's style of play, while maintaining their blood-and-thunder reputation.

In 19 games under former Chelsea assistant manager Edwards, the Lions produced some spells of outstanding football, notably in the first half of the 3-1 home defeat to Middlesbrough in January. But results started poorly, briefly picked up and then plummeted, and the club felt they had no choice but to dismiss him after defeats in seven of their last eight matches left them a point outside the Championship drop-zone.

With the exception of Saturday's wretched home defeat to fellow strugglers Sheffield Wednesday, most of the last seven games followed a similar pattern: Millwall would start well, but concede against the run of play through an individual error, before capitulating.

I want the players to see me standing on the sidelines leading them as a Millwall person

Neil Harri

On Saturday, the atmosphere at the Den quickly turned ugly, as many fans turned on the confidence-shot players and Edwards, though there were some who felt that he deserved more time.

Edwards's departure and the club's precarious situation are uncomfortable for chairman James Berylson, who is now seeking a return to the stability which defined his late father John's tenure.

Edwards remains well-liked at the club, but perhaps the job was too big for the 37-year-old, whose only previous role as a head coach was in charge of England's Under-20s. There was a sense that Edwards was trapped between a desire to get the team playing out from the back and keeping their intimidating edge.

In an interview with Standard Sport last month, Edwards said he wanted to build a "highly technical" team that would also be willing to "kick" the opposition, adding: "That's the kind of balance I want to bring, because I know that's the standard expected here."

Neil Harris during his first spell as manager (Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)
Neil Harris during his first spell as manager (Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

The returning Harris will be less conflicted, and the club's all-time leading scorer is tasked with keeping the Lions in the Championship over the final 13 matches by whatever means necessary.

The 46-year-old, who left League One’s Cambridge to make his return, spoke in his first interview back about restoring a "Millwall identity". There will likely be fewer attempts to pass through the lines and more of the pragmatism and tub-thumping of his first spell in charge. He called for "passion", "fight" and "togetherness" from the players, and said he wanted to restore their "belief" and "confidence".

"I want them to see me standing on the sidelines leading them as a Millwall person," Harris added, emphasising the contrast with Edwards, who spent nearly three decades associated with Chelsea as a youth player and then coach.

Harris could not keep Millwall in the Championship after taking over in similar circumstances with nine games of the 2014-15 remaining, although this time around he will have more fixtures and a stronger squad. His return, on an 18-month deal, is a short-term move with the club's long-term interests in mind.