BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Steve Morison reckons Millwall have one less excuse for not performing now that the summer transfer window has closed.
The Lions will have had a fortnight to chew over three straight Championship defeats – their longest losing sequence since winning promotion from League One in May 2017 – before they face Championship leaders Leeds.
And Morison, never one to mince his words, admits that interest in key components of Neil Harris’ squad, who excelled with an eighth-place finish last season, has disrupted the harmony.
George Saville joined Middlesbrough a week ago – initially on loan but with a locked-in £8million permanent deal in January. The Teessiders also tried to take Jed Wallace with Glasgow Rangers leaking their attempts to prise Jake Cooper away from the South London outfit.
Harris has described the end of the window as “unsettling at times” and felt it contributed to “a loss of focus” in the past couple of weeks.
“Yeah, it definitely hasn’t been the same dressing room as it has been,” said Morison, who turned 35 last week. “Especially when you look at what we had last season. As the manager has said, it’s been difficult.
“Last season everyone in the team had something to prove. Everyone in our team was brought in because they were surplus to requirements in the teams they were at, or part of the team that got promoted from League One. There was real drive, hunger and a mentality to succeed – because it was a new challenge.
“We all had points to prove in our own little ways. I can only talk for myself, but I’m still trying to stave off retirement – that’s what everyone expects when you get to a certain age. Others have got different motivations.
“It was really disappointing in the summer the way that other teams made things public [in terms of interest and bids]. It’s difficult for players, especially young ones who are not used to that and don’t know how to deal with it.
“A bit of focus moved from the dressing room, purely because peoples’ heads have been turned.
“The window closing takes away any excuses now. We can’t use that one now. If we don’t perform the manager is quite right to hang us out to dry.”
Until the summer sale of Saville, Morison had been the club’s record outgoing. He was sold to Norwich City in June 2011 for £2.8m.
“The only time that the speculation had any effect on me playing-wise was when I didn’t leave after Millwall’s first season in the Championship,” he said. “We had got promoted from League One and I had interest from Nottingham Forest and Norwich. I was made aware those offers had come in and spoke to Kenny Jackett.
“I’d only been in professional football at that kind of level for 18 months. I can’t think of the exact figures, but you’re on something like 3k a week and someone is ready to give you 12k, to do the same job.
“Your head does get turned. You think ‘bloody hell – that’s life-changing’. It’s difficult but it is about how you are as a player and the mentality you have. You still want to win. Your natural desire is to go and play football. What changes is peoples’ perception from the outside – that is the hardest thing to deal with.
“I remember in my last six months at the club that if I played and we won then it was great. But if you played badly it was because you didn’t want to be there.
“George can’t play badly – it’s not in him. He runs around. He’s not like some flair player who has decided he is not going to bother trying. It’s not how he plays football.
“The geezer got knocked out against Sheffield Wednesday. He was stone-cold out of it on the pitch. He doesn’t remember what happened. Yet everyone decides it [him not featuring in the next two games] is because he doesn’t want to be here.
“My move happened before the season started. There is a story to be told. I got hung out to dry, being made to put in a transfer request. It was a responsibility I had to take to make sure I took the opportunity to play in the Premier League.
“Anyone who thinks I was wrong for doing that is completely deluded. You can’t turn down playing at the highest level. If you don’t feel that way then you obviously haven’t got the drive and hunger to push on.
“We had a lot of interest in our players off the back of a very good season and that is where we have got to get back to, and realise individuals had such good seasons because of how good we were as a team.
“On an individual basis we ain’t that great – but as a team we’re really good.
“At the moment we’re not as united as we were towards the end of last season but for large parts of the game against Swansea we were getting back to where we were. We just let ourselves down in the last 10 or 15 minutes.
“Everything else up to that point was spot on. It was difficult when they had lost a man [to a red card] because we were the ones having to come forward and they [Swansea] had less of the ball, so we couldn’t implement our style fully.
“We stuck to the game plan. For some reason Millwall fans think when we have the ball a lot they expect us to turn into Manchester City. But we’re not that. We’re really good at what we do.
“On Saturday we stuck to the principles which have worked for us time and time again. We just didn’t get the extra goal we needed. We should’ve been out of sight.”
Saville’s departure has been covered by the addition of Ryan Leonard from Sheffield United.
The former Southend United midfielder is eligible for next weekend’s home game against the Yorkshire giants, who have made a flying start under Marcelo Bielsa.
“The manager has wanted Ryan Leonard before and now he has got him,” said Morison. “He has to come in and fill those boots [of Saville]. It is between him and Tunni [Ryan Tunnicliffe].
“Someone has got to get the five or 10 goals from midfield.
“George was on fire at the start of last season but only scored three goals in our 17-game unbeaten run.
“He did really well. I know what I will miss with George – his personality around the football club. I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t think he is funny.
“It will take a bit of time for Bradders [Tom Bradshaw] and Lenny to slowly come out of their shells but hopefully they can gel quickly and get in the team.
“It will be a process. They have both been club-record signings and people will think they should walk into the team but you have to earn yourself a place.
“The thing the gaffer talks about is we play a certain way, everyone knows their job and roles – you have to learn that before you are going to be successful.”
TOP IMAGE: BRIAN TONKS