BY TOBY PORTER
There is a simple answer to what Millwall need to get into the play-offs and then the Premier League says former assistant manager David Livermore.
And that is goals.
The current Millwall team sit in ninth place in the Championship having scored 41 goals – while third-placed Brentford have 66. The next highest club to have scored as few goals is Luton in 13th.
The Lions probably have to win every one of their last six games to make up the eight-point deficit with the top six, to reach the play-offs.
Livermore said: “A club needs to get more than 70 goals over the course of the 46 games to have a chance.
“So what Millwall are missing is 20 or more goals. But the club has not had that in the Championship for many years – and that commodity is very hard to find.
“Without that, what Rowett has done is amazing – another top 10 finish is remarkable. He’s really maximising what he has.
“Hopefully, when financial fair play actually gets properly implemented, Millwall will have a better chance – because the club has always worked within its means.”
Livermore was in Mark McGhee’s side which came fourth in 2002 but were knocked out of the play-offs by Stern John, of Birmingham, who went on to win promotion at Wembley.
“That team had Paul Ifill, Stephen Reid and Tim Cahill who all went on to play in the top flight – and Richard Sadlier, who should have done.
“We had a young, energetic, fit and hungry squad – plus a bit of arrogance.
“It is similar to Barnsley this year – there is always an outlier. What they have done has not taken just one year – they have recruited a certain style of player and no one over the age of 24 apart from centre-forward Cauley Woodrow.
“Our side also had experienced players like Steve Claridge, Stuart Nethercott, Sean Dyche and Tony Warner.
“We had got to a cup final in 1999, the play-off semi-final [of the third tier] the following year then won the title and finally finished fourth in the Championship. We had success every year – we were used to being successful.
“The gulf between Millwall and the Premier League clubs would not have been as great then – but statistically, across the world, clubs tend to finish where their wages tell you they will.”
Livermore also points to the back room team with chairman Theo Paphitis, master organiser Steve Gritt as McGhee’s assistant and Ray Harford – who had won the Premier League in 1995 with Blackburn as manager Kenny Dalglish’s assistant.
“The manager galvanized us and led us – he was very good with us and with the Press,” said Livermore. “We also had Ben Stork and Matt Lovell the fitness team who played their part in helping England win the Rugby World Cup later, in 2003. They had us on a very effective fitness regime. We were also very robust – I don’t recall any muscle injuries
“Everyone bought into it. Add to that the uniqueness of the support and hostility you can create towards the opposition team. The connection between the players and the terraces was fantastic.
“It was like a perfect storm – but we did come up short in the end.
“Our midfield made me look good. There was criticism of me and – yes, it was tough because everyone wants to be liked. I did divide opinion and I wasn’t as talented as Timmy or Reidy or Ifill – but every manager picked me and all my team-mates wanted me to play because I allowed them to do what they did.
“Perhaps there was a lack of belief at the end, that we could get to the top level.”
The 2001-02 season was by no means a procession. McGhee’s side won 4-0 at home against Norwich in the first game – and then lost 4-0 at Birmingham in the second.
“We could win games within the first 30-minutes but if we hadn’t by the last 30-minutes we would be hanging on because we had put so much into it,” said Livermore. “That is a Millwall trait. We had lost Neil Harris before the start and then Richard Sadlier after the turn of the year – and that was a lot of goals.
“Maybe the small squad size did have an effect in the end – maybe we ran out of steam.
“Stephen Reid was sold to Blackburn at the end of the next season. We probably adjusted to where our budget suggested we should be.”
In March 2004, they were also in a good position – but that changed as soon as they won the FA Cup semi-final. Performances tailed off.
“There was a genuine fear of suspension and injury after getting to Wembley,” said Livermore. “It took away some of our edge and we only won a single game in our last eight – and Danny Dichio sent off, so was suspended for two of them.
“You wait a lifetime to play in FA Cup final and you don’t want to miss out. Both Tony Warner and Kevin Muscat were injured for the run-in. You don’t take your foot off the gas – but in the back of your mind there was self-protection.
“Any Millwall team which drops its standards, by even a fraction of a percent, will struggle – because when we’ve been successful we’ve been at full tilt.”
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