Ryan Leonard on win over Southampton, Neil Harris being Mr Millwall and backing up display against Watford next time out

Ryan Leonard hailed the man-management skills of Neil Harris after Millwall’s head coach made a winning return.

The Lions won 2-1 at Southampton to spring a Championship upset.

It also ensured that Harris, back for his second permanent spell as boss after replacing Joe Edwards on Wednesday, collected maximum points in his first game back at the helm.

Leonard is one of a number of the Millwall squad that played for the 46-year-old in his first spell, when he led the South Londoners to promotion from League One and then cemented their place in the Championship.

“He is an incredible man-manager,” said Leonard. “He gets the best out of his players whether on the football or off the football. He really brings the club together, on and off the pitch.

“We had 3,000 fans singing his name at the end of the game. He just comes in and he is Millwall….he is Millwall Football Club. It was a great result, for him and for the lads.

“It’s been a tough, tough period. It’s been a strange week and difficult – the manager leaving and a new manager coming in. Any player would say it isn’t an enjoyable week, when that happens.

“It was a performance that showed real togetherness as a team – it shows what we have as a club and as a team. Not just the 11 that played, the players that got on but also the ones that didn’t get on.

“We came in this week and knew we had to put it right. As players we owed it to ourselves. We needed to create a performance that showed togetherness and showed spirit. We got that from the first whistle. Going 1-0 up early doors (through Japhet Tanganga) was big for us. Conceding a goal, which we could do better with, then we got the penalty (converted by Zian Flemming).

Millwall’s Ryan Leonard challenges Southampton’s Samuel Edozie during the Sky Bet Championship match at St Mary’s Stadium, Southampton. Picture date: Saturday February 24, 2024.

“Second half it showed we were a defensive unit but there were probably a few times on the counter we could do better.

“A lot of praise goes to Matty (Sarkic), the keeper, at the end – making the save he did was huge. He deserves all the credit in the world for what he did there. It shows as a keeper that he is an excellent keeper. He made a great save which won us the game.”

Millwall had to keep their defensive shape against a Saints side who dominated the ball.

Asked how much it fatigues to block up space over the course of a match, Leonard said: “Mentally is is very hard work. You’re having to talk to players and pass people on moving into different areas.

“For the midfield four and two up top it is probably a little harder than for us defenders. We have to defend well and talk to those in front of us. Especially the wide players – whether that be G (George Honeyman), Longy (Ryan Longman), Brooke (Norton-Cuffy) came on – those boys did an unbelievable job for us along the ones up top – Z, Bradders (Tom Bradshaw) and Mike (Obafemi), in the first half – did an amazing job for us.

“You could pick out so many individual players but, as a team today, we showed we are good players. We can defend well and move the ball well. At times we can probably do a little better on the ball but we showed real spirit.”

Other results meant that Millwall are still only a point outside of the Championship bottom three.

“Whether you are first, sixth, 12 or 24th I think you always look at the scores,” said Leonard, when asked about many of Millwall’s drop rivals also producing positive results. “It makes no difference to us – we’ve still got 12 huge games.

“It (the win over Southampton) is one of the highlights of the season but, as the manager said after the game, we have to go again Saturday (against Watford at The Den). It’s just as big a game. If we don’t put in a performance on Saturday then today means nothing.

“One hundred per cent we have to turn our performances and results at The Den around. We need to get the fans shouting for us – we need to give them a reason to do that. Today you saw a real reason for them to get behind us and support us.”

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