It has been a season of up and downs for Millwall Lionesses which ultimately resulted in another bottom of the table performance. It is important to note that Millwall have had a lot of obstacles to navigate through, the most pertinent being the early loss of a manager and heavy fixture congestion.
Taking those factors into consideration, eighth place is not too shabby of a finish and they have shown that they are progressing as they build on points from previous seasons. Many of their defeats have come from a very narrow one goal, not to mention that they dropped many points through many draws left but all in all, it left them with a healthy deficit of seven goals. That is not to say that minus numbers are healthy but in this context, it has to be said it is impressive as it shows that the problem is not with scoring, it is to do with their confidence in maintaining leads or draws.
A bright start
The future was filled with promise as the Lionesses underwent a restructuring within the Millwall FC umbrella. This included the appointment of Emilie Perry as the clubs Chairperson and recruitment of an experienced Rebecca Sawuik as head coach. The men's club also continued to endorse with home games being played at The Den, arguably the best venue in WSL 2.
Things for the side started out well, there was a buzz in Bermondsey following three wins from four opening away games in all competitions. Including a hefty 5-3 victory over Oxford to kick off their season, in which the Lionesses spent the vast majority of the game in the lead. It seemed as though this actually was going to be the year to shout about South London.
Things continued like this for Millwall, despite finding themselves away from home for the majority of fixtures. It seemed as though Sawuik had become something of a gelling agent for the Lionesses, in in addition to commanding and talented skipper Ashlee Hincks. They churned out unexpected draws against teams predicted to be in the battle for promotion, such as Everton and Durham, with a fighting spirit that would make any team shiver in their boots.
Clinching draws soon turned into losing games. Starting with a devastating 2-1 loss to their rivals in the capital, London Bees, the loss an even more bitter pill to swallow having equalised to only then gave away a silly penalty in additional time. From a narrow and careless defeat, the Lionesses slipped into a devastating 4-0 hammering at home to Yeovil Town. It was another eight games until the side would earn a full three points from a game.
Where it went wrong
It all seemed to be working with their Head Coach but in June it was announced that Sawuik would be leaving the club to pursue other career, leaving assistant manager Lauren Phillips to take on the sacred duty of interim manager.
Performances declined as the team struggled to adapt to the tricky situation that they had inherited, unwillingly. Millwall looked as though they could not hold their nerve as they would take the lead or equalise and then fall behind despite showing that they can play together well.
The first game under temporary management was against Bristol City, who went on to secure promotion, which ended in a 2-1 defeat. From a one goal margin to a two goal margin the next week to an emphatic 3-1 bashing by Aston Villa. The most crushing element of the game? They had been in the lead for almost 25 minutes following an extremely early opener by Grace Fisk.
In their last game under Phillips, most likely to her relief, the Lionesses were able to rescue themselves from another loss, this demonstrated that they all had the Millwall spirit burning away inside them, it had just been harder to pry out during in the difficult circumstances. Substitute Charlotte Gurr was the one to save the side from throwing away another win, simultaneously providing the manager-to-be with a platform to really get momentum going again.
Foundations for the future
It had been around a month since Sawuik left the club and the care-taking management, though valiant, was not fulfilling the fans' hope of a fantastic season. Luckily, Millwall were ready to announce that the club had found the right man for the job: Lee Burch.
The news came with three days until the Lionesses first game under, and this time it would played at the infamous Den. This seemed like a rarity as the club had felt the brunt of questionable scheduling, barely playing on home turf. Perhaps it was foreshadowing that most of Sawuik's games would be played away, while Burch was able to enjoy four games in a row at home - which is also where Millwall resurrected their form.
Burch's first game shaped up nicely. It was against Bristol City who were, at this point, marching on for the title. The Lionesses looked resilient as a sensible substitution saw Rinsola Babajide come on and muscle her way through the Vixens defence to earn the equaliser. Five minutes later they conceded, but teething problems are to be expected, above all there was a new spark within the Lionesses camp. Even though the scoreline was the same as the away leg, supporters came away from the stadium with a unanimous residual feeling. That was good. The team went on to only concede two losses in the rest of the season, both to Durham.
Now that the FA have announced that they will move from a summer league to winter, it is likely that the disorganisation will decrease and it is hopeful that attendances will increase, if that is the case Millwall have a real chance of climbing up the WSL 2 ladder. The Spring Series will also give Burch time to assemble his best squad and then test it up against the same teams that they will clash with when winter comes back around.
The future looks bright for Millwall but inevitably, they will be cautious after a calamitous affair just seven games into the season. Maybe next year is their year...