Millwall in crisis

Last updated : 15 September 2003 By Neil Andrews
McGhee: Under fire
This was the season we were finally going to go up. Money was splashed on big signings, the manager was finally allowed to get his way and install his own man as number two and the chairman was so confident of promotion that he kept telling everyone and anyone that would listen that it was so.

But now, after a run of two defeats and three draws, it looks like its all going belly up for the Lions.

Blame for Saturday's defeat has been attributed to new signing Kevin Muscat - true, he was sent off for a reckless stamp - but his dismissal and subsequent trial by internet chatboard has merely covered the cracks. After all, this was a team that failed to break down 10-man Crystal Palace at home and somehow managed to turn a 3-2 lead into a 4-3 defeat in the last ten minutes against Gillingham. Victory against Watford was hardly on the cards.

And now there are rumours of spats and a dressing room in turmoil. Muscat has found himself frozen out by his team-mates while the likes of Noel Whelan and last year's Junior Lions Player of the Year, Robbie Ryan, have found themselves in the reserves for no apparent reason.

Most of the blame for the recent poor run must lie with Manager Mark McGhee. He has yet to start with the same eleven players for two consecutive matches and keeps changing tactics and formations, and many believe that he has simply lost the plot. For the Carling Cup game against Oxford United, he chose to put three defenders on the subs bench, electing to play tricky winger Peter Sweeney and youngster Moses Ashikodi in a friendly that afternoon. This decision backfired on him and the Third Division side left The Den with a 1-0 victory under their belts.

But the odd tactical mistake could be forgiven if McGhee played his best side yet his man-management skills leave a lot to be desired.

Whelan: Frozen out
This season alone, Ryan and Whelan have found themselves surplus to requirements and Whelan was told he'd never play for Millwall again after disputing the manager's decisions. Peter Sweeney has yet to make the bench despite an impressive pre-season and the fact that the team was crying out for a wide player in those opening games. In years gone past he has alienated Christophe Kinet and was filmed calling the Belgian a "w*nker" after he'd scored against Coventry City while Lucas Neill was soon offloaded to Blackburn Rovers after falling out with McGhee over his selection policy.

But if you're in McGhee's good books, you are almost guaranteed a place in the starting line-up. Take David Livermore, a midfielder with limited ability. McGhee has always found a place for him, despite competition from the likes of Dennis Wise, Andy Roberts and Tim Cahill, and went so far as making him captain when Stuart Nethercott was injured last season.

The McGhee philosophy appears to be "my way or the heighway" - yet many appear to be electing to take the heighway, even more so after the sacking of Steve Gritt and his subsequent replacement by McGhee's mate, Archie Knox. Knox's hardline approach is already rubbing some players up the wrong way.

This season promised so much, especially after victories in the two opening games, yet all of this may count for nothing if McGhee continues to behave like a latter day Pharaoh. Questions need to be asked before it is too late, and unless things change tomorrow night at home against Wimbledon, the crowd are ready to call for the Scotsman's head.