Championship Spotlight: Millwall panic, Sunderland gaffe exposed before Leeds United’s defining game

Lewis Oldham
Championship Spotlight
Neil Harris, Michael Beale and Daniel Farke.

The Championship Spotlight is on relegation-threatened Millwall hitting the panic button and Sunderland ending their hate-filled relationship with Michael Beale.


After narrowly missing out on the Championship play-offs for four consecutive seasons, expectations at The Den had risen ahead of this campaign.

Despite overachieving in previous years, former boss Gary Rowett was arguably a victim of his success. Still, fan backlash intensified ahead of this campaign and following Millwall’s poor start to this season as supporters grew sick of the manager’s uninspiring preferred style of play.

Club chiefs listened to that dismay and drafted in progressive coach and Frank Lampard’s mate – Joe Edwards – to succeed Rowett and *hopefully* take Millwall to another level.

But given how poorly their season has developed since Rowett’s exit in October, Millwall perhaps should have been careful what they wished for. They have suffered from the precariousness of the Championship while attempting a mid-season remodel as their relegation fears have gradually worsened.

In an ideal world, Millwall would have just evaded trouble and then looked ahead to a summer in which Edwards could truly build the club around his coaching philosophy. But a run of 11 defeats in 19 (which includes losses to QPR and Sheffield Wednesday) leaves the London club just a point clear of safety and made their inexperienced manager’s position untenable.

Their 2-0 loss to the Owls over the weekend was the final straw for Edwards and with Millwall winless since New Year’s Day, they have opted to take a couple of steps back in a desperate attempt to get over the safety line.

Former striker Neil Harris – who managed Millwall between 2015 and 2019 – is back in the dugout ahead of their daunting trip to face Southampton this weekend.

Harris’ previous spell at Millwall is still his best in management to date and he has fallen on his feet with this job as he’s hardly deserving of a Championship return. In October, he was sacked by League Two side Gillingham and has now ditched bottom-half League One club Cambridge United for a move back to his old team.

For Harris, this is an opportunity he cannot turn down and if he manages to keep his beloved side up, he will further establish himself as a club legend.

But for Millwall, this is an appointment that reeks of panic and short-term thinking. Yes, the new manager bounce and fan buzz from a legend returning home may edge the club to safety but what then? If Harris keeps the Lions in the division, they will surely have to keep him on but it’s hard to see anything good coming from this in the long term and they will be back to square one searching for *another* new manager before the year is out.


Speaking of a club failing to realise that the grass is now always greener, we have Sunderland who have been a shambles off the field this season.

It never felt that ex-boss Tony Mowbray was a name befitting of Sunderland in the eyes of their ambitious owners and the veteran manager was walking a tightrope even while they contended for the play-offs during their first season back in the Championship in 2022/23.

The writing was always going to be on the wall for Mowbray as soon as Sunderland suffered a slight dip in form and this came as he was dismissed in December.

Sunderland then cast their net far and wide in search of a top coach to replace Mowbray but after failing to acquire their preferred candidates – Will Still namely – they eventually had to settle for an underwhelming pick in Beale.

READ MORE: Ten times clubs barely avoided recent disastrous managerial appointments, including Man Utd and Spurs

This was Beale’s first manager’s job since his poor spell at Rangers, which preceded his short but sweet stint at QPR. So this appointment – at best – was a sideways step for Sunderland following Mowbray’s time in charge and Steven Gerrard’s former assistant was certainly not the exciting name fans were expecting to be gift-wrapped.

Some supporters rightly argued that if Sunderland were going to appoint Beale, they may as well have kept Mowbray and the growing feeling of ill will made the job extremely difficult from the get-go.

Mike Dodds – who was the interim manager between the two permanent appointments – made life even tougher for Beale after winning two of his three games in charge.

Anything other than excellence would have not been enough to afford Beale some breathing space to get his feet under the table but his record of four wins in 12 saw Sunderland’s play-off push stagnate and he was sacked on Monday after back-to-back league defeats.

The Black Cats have since made a rare sensible decision in making Dodds interim boss until the summer to allow for some much-needed wriggle room before Beale’s permanent successor is named.

The Sunderland/Beale marriage was cursed from day one but the 43-year-old did not help himself with that baffling pitchside snub of defender Trai Hume or by apparently setting up a burner account on Twitter to post biased views to deflect criticism away from himself.

It would be hilarious and sad if he did such a thing. But regardless of whether it’s true or not, his managerial reputation is still already in need of serious repair despite him being touted as the next big thing while at QPR just 15 months ago.


It is not all doom and gloom in the Championship as Leeds United are having a wonderful time.

Ex-Norwich City boss Daniel Farke proved himself as a Championship specialist during his time at Carrow Road and with Leeds unbeaten in 2024, he is now in a position to pull off another promotion to the Premier League as his team are purring just at the right time.

READ MORE: Leicester City to repeat Leeds United’s cock-up? How Christmas Championship table-toppers finished…

Leeds United’s mood was boosted even further in midweek as Hull City condemned direct rivals Southampton to their second defeat in three games.

A lot can change in a couple of days at this level and it was not long ago that Southampton looked to be the frontrunners to finish second, but they are now lagging behind Leeds and Ipswich Town, who picked up their third win in a row in dramatic fashion on Tuesday by beating bottom-placed Rotherham United 4-3.

Looking ahead to this weekend, Leeds have the benefit of playing before Ipswich and Southampton but they face the unenviable task of facing Leicester City at Elland Road.

There are four standout teams in the Championship this season but – up to now – Enzo Maresca’s side have comfortably been the best of the bunch as they are nine points clear at the summit.

But Leeds are one of the very few teams to get the better of Leicester this season and on Friday night – in front of their thunderous Elland Road faithful – they will be out to copy Middlesbrough in doing the double over the Foxes.

If they manage to do it, Leeds will still be far from the promotion finish line with plenty more hurdles to come, but they would make an almighty statement and such a result may make Leicester – who would then be just six points clear of Farke’s side – start to nervously look over their shoulders.