Paul Newman: Shrewd Jackett continues to work wonders
The Football League Column
When Millwall were languishing second from bottom in the table on the first day of this month, some of the Championship cognoscenti were no doubt exchanging "I told you so" glances. Kenny Jackett's unfancied team had worked wonders in their first season following promotion from League One, finishing in ninth place, but many observers expected them to find life much tougher second time around.
Eight matches without a League win, which had followed a promising start in which they had drawn at Reading and beaten Nottingham Forest, suggested that the bubble might have burst, but Millwall have responded in spirited fashion in their last four matches, all against would-be promotion contenders.
Draws at Middlesbrough and at home to Brighton have been followed by two resounding victories. Jackett's men trounced Leicester City 3-0 at the Walkers Stadium nine days ago and followed that with a 4-1 dismantling of Ipswich Town at the Den on Saturday. Tomorrow's home match against Coventry City, who are in the relegation zone, offers the chance of further progress up the table.
"To get back-to-back wins in Leicester away and Ipswich at home is big for us," Jackett said. "The table is still tight points-wise so hopefully this little run will give the boys confidence. We want to continue playing well, scoring goals and pushing up the table. The players are a determined bunch and don't want to be down the bottom of the league. There are no poor teams in the Championship so you have to be on your game to get a result."
In a division that is always competitive, Jackett will know that his team still have plenty of work to do, but the last month has shown that Millwall have it in them to prosper in the Championship. With an average crowd of under 12,000, the south London club operate on a tight budget, but Jackett has consistently proved what a shrewd operator he can be in the transfer market.
The sale this summer of Steve Morison to Norwich City appeared to be a significant blow, the former Stevenage Borough striker having scored 36 League goals in the previous two seasons, but Jackett's recruitment of Darius Henderson has been a particular success.
The 30-year-old striker, whose contract with Sheffield United expired at the end of last season, is a highly experienced target-man, having played for a total of seven clubs. He has quickly made his mark at the Den, scoring six goals in his first 10 appearances, including a hat-trick at Leicester. Nevertheless, keeping him fit and in-form could be a challenge: since making his League debut for Reading 12 seasons ago, Henderson has made more than 30 appearances in a campaign only once.
A loan signing, meanwhile, was the key to Saturday's victory. Jay Simpson, who is on Hull City's books, scored twice and had a hand in the two other goals. Simpson, who had Premier League experience with West Bromwich Albion, is in his second loan spell at the Den, having won the PFA fans' player of the year award at the end his year-long stay at the club in the 2007-08 season.
Hameur Bouazza, an Algerian international who originally joined on a short-term contract from the French club Arles-Avignon in January, has since become a permanent signing. Like Liam Trotter and Liam Feeney, who was a deadline day recruit from Bournemouth, Bouazza has contributed important goals from midfield this season.
"Jay Simpson has progressed well, his fitness has come on and, with that, confidence and it's always good for strikers to score and make goals," Jackett said. "The start he's made for us has been a good one and the partnership of Jay and Darius Henderson is starting to come together. Liam Feeney's done well since he's been here too."
Jackett is the longest serving manager currently working in the Championship. The former Watford player will celebrate the fourth anniversary of his appointment next weekend; Simon Grayson, who has been at Leeds for less than three years, is the next longest-serving. Jackett took Millwall into the Championship in 2010 alongside Norwich City and Leeds United. Keeping them there would be just as significant an achievement.
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