It is the scene of his most gut-wrenching defeat with Sheffield United and, according to Bramall Lane folklore, greatest piece of man-management.
So when Chris Wilder strolls through reception at Millwall tomorrow, 16 months after Steve Morison’s penalty left them propping-up the rest of League One, he will pause for a moment and reflect just how far the visitors have come.
“It’s easy to play when things are flowing and the sun is shining,” Wilder said yesterday. “It’s when things are going the other way, when the pressure is on, that counts for a lot. You learn a lot about people then and also about yourself.”
United travel the The Den ranked third in the Championship table after winning 12 of their opening 19 fixtures this term. But the mood was very different following last season’s corresponding fixture as Wilder, a little over 14 weeks into his new job, found himself contemplating how to rescue a campaign which had begun in desperately disappointing fashion. His response, which has been described as the catalyst for United’s subsequent title-triumph, was to stop the team bus in Bermondsey and buy several crates of lager for the long journey home. Although Wilder confirmed those events during his pre-match media conference, he had a slightly different take on the moment United turned things around.
“The Millwall game would have been a big point so to go under, the way we did, yes it hurt,” he said. “The next game, we were 1-0 down to Oxford and the opposition punters were singing ‘You’re getting sacked in the morning.’ People wonder why I have a rip at them at times. We were still without a win but we came back to win that one. There were players who, and with all due respect to fans you can sometimes see it better as a manager, who really stepped-up to the plate. They aren’t always the ones who get the credit for it but you really notice from our perspective. That, the Oxford game, was the big turning point for me.”
Millwall also went on to secure promotion after beating Bradford City in the play-off final. Although Neil Harris’ side have slipped to 19th place following a six match winless run, their ground is viewed as one of the most intimidating arenas in English football.
“We know what it’s like,” Wilder continued. “I remember after the final, Steve I think it was, saying something like ‘We’re back in the Championship; get your helmets on.’ They’re a passionate crowd but our fans are passionate too. We’ve already been in situations like that, especially the derby (with Sheffield Wednesday), and did pretty okay there. Whatever noise their fans make, I know is going to be matched by ours.”
United, who are without Paul Coutts (broken leg), Kieron Freeman (knee) and Ched Evans (ankle), could welcome back wing-back George Baldock for the trip to London.