Millwall ~ a nervy season ends well at The Den
2011-12 season review ~ Although expectations were not particularly high at The Den last season, even the most pessimistic fan – and Millwall have more than their fair share – would not have expected Kenny Jackett's side to be involved in such a prolonged relegation battle. But after a bright start, the Lions spent most of the campaign trying to keep their heads above water after a bad run brought just one win from 12 games. At first, this was attributed to a combination of poor defending in the final five minutes, lousy refereeing and bad luck.
A subsequent run of three impressive wins on the bounce seemed to suggest this diagnosis was correct. But it proved to be a false dawn and by the end of March, Millwall were looking nervously over their shoulders as the teams below them began to pick up points.
Then, all of a sudden, the team looked like world beaters. A near perfect end of the season saw Jackett win Manager of the Month and the Lions move up the table, eventually finishing in 16th but more importantly one place above neighbours Crystal Palace, who had been crowing prematurely about our demise.
Credit for the turnaround must go to the manager, who had altered his tactics following the loss of Steve Morison then recognised it wasn't working. Chairman John Berylson, who stood by Jackett while certain quarters were baying for his head, also deserves praise.
Millwall were one of the few teams in the bottom half not to have a change of personnel in the dugout and the perseverance paid off. However, the late charge was slightly soured by the premature death of Lions legend Barry Kitchener. The 64-year-old, who was the club's record appearance holder with 602 senior appearances and 28 goals, had been diagnosed with cancer.
On the pitch, several players enjoyed a successful season, despite the team's struggles. Striker Darius Henderson surprised many with his goalscoring form and would have passed the 20 milestone but for injury and suspensions. Captain Paul Robinson was a consistent performer during his testimonial year and new signing Shane Lowry slotted in nicely alongside him in the middle of the defence.
Spurs loanee Harry Kane saw his stock rise as the season continued and goalkeeper David Forde has made the Republic of Ireland's Euro 2012 squad, despite an inconsistent season by his standard. The popular French midfielder, Nadjim Abdou, picked up the fans' Player of the Year trophy and richly deserved it.
A special mention must go to Andy Keogh, the former Wolves striker who signed during the January transfer window. His return of ten goals from 17 starts went a long way to ensuring Championship football at The Den next season. A lot is expected from him come August, particularly if the manager can strengthen his strikeforce. Hopefully Millwall can continue their end-of-term form into the new campaign, if only so the fans can grow their fingernails back after last season's experiences. Neil Andrews
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