ADAPTING to a new style of play is as much a change of tactics as it is a change of philosophy.
Kenny Jackett has spoken of his desire to see Millwall evolve into a team that can dominate possession, build attacks from defensive positions and counter-attack effectively and clinically.
It is the next natural stage of progression for the Lions under Jackett’s stewardship and one that, eventually, could see the club competing at the top-end of the Championship.
But it will not work if his players do not buy into this new mentality; the formation can change, but if Millwall do not put faith in their ability to pass the ball in tight situations or when under pressure, this evolution of style will have been for nothing.
The Lions will be stuck in a half-way house if they can not fully commit to Jackett’s tactical overhaul.
Dave Jones’ revelation that Sheffield Wednesday set out to disrupt Millwall’s passing at Hillsborough on Saturday was something of a backwards compliment.
It a sign of how far the Lions they have already come that opposition scouts believe the key to disrupting Jackett’s side is to exert pressure high up the field, to close down quickly and to limit their time on the ball.
These are exactly the kind of tactics that Millwall deployed in League One and following their promotion to the Championship in 2010.
In the second half of the win at Peterborough and in the first of the defeat at Hillsborough, the Lions passed the ball with more composure, accuracy and speed than they have ever previously done under Jackett.
But when the Owls came at them after half-time, they seemed to abandon their new principles and revert to hurried long-ball tactics.
Whereas in the first half, pressure on the defence was relieved simply by retention of possession near the half-way line, Wednesday were able to recycle the ball as Millwall sat deeper and deeper.
Jackett’s biggest challenge is convincing his players to keep passing the ball – no matter the circumstances. Swansea and Blackpool have been rewarded with the fruits of such labour in recent seasons, and Jackett now wants to follow in their footsteps.
The new season may only be two week’s old, but we have already seen what can be achieved when the Lions hold onto the ball and wait for the right moment to strike. But only in short spells.
These spells tend to be after Millwall have scored – suddenly they trust their ability to spray a cross-field pass without taking a touch, or lay the ball off to a teammate without thinking.
But if Jackett’s tactical revolution is to succeed, this has to be a default setting. And it may take a bit of blind faith to achieve it.