ENTERING the Lions’ Den is not for the faint-hearted. Sean Dyche should know that.
He was part of the pride for three years, but saw plenty of opponents retreat in fear as Millwall roared to promotion in his second season and just missed out on a place in the Premier League in his third and final campaign in south east London as they were beaten by Birmingham City in the play-off semi-finals.
Almost 11 years on they are pushing for a tilt at the top flight again under Kenny Jackett.
Burnley have the chance to put the Lions off course and climb even closer to the top six themselves tomorrow.
They should beware the backlash if that’s the case, but Dyche will have them well braced.
“It’s not a place for weak minds. You need to be ready to play and earn the right to play. You earn it everywhere, but you certainly have to earn it there,” said the Burnley boss.
“It’s an interesting place. I’ve witnessed some interesting times when they go against the opposition.
“It’s hostile in a way for you,” said Dyche, recalling the effect on the home camp.
“It’s a club I had a really good time at.
“We had a very talented young group. There were a few older boys, including myself – I was probably 30 or 31 at the time – there was Stuart Nethercott, Tony Warner was probably 26 or 27.
“Steve Claridge came in during our second season in the Championship, before that Neil Harris was flying.
“But the young boys were terrific.
“Already they were remarkably good young players, like Lucas Neill and Tim Cahill.
“There were some unsung heroes like Dave Livermore, who played with Tim Cahill in midfield and did all the ugly stuff.
“Robbie Ryan, Matt Lawrence at right back, Paul Ifill had a terrific season when we got promoted.
“There were a couple of lads who unfortunately had to finish early through injury who were fantastic young players and would have been like a Cahill – Richard Sadlier and Joe Dolan, who unfortunately broke his leg.
“It was a real, real talented group when I look back.
“I wasn’t one. I was the glue that tried to hold it all together.”
Former centre half Dyche is bringing solidity to Burnley, in management, now as the Clarets go into tomorrow’s game with a 100 per cent start to 2013 in the Championship.
The chances of them extending that run are favourable too, if the 41-year-old’s record against his old club is anything to go by.
Dyche has played 11 times against Millwall as a player, coach and manager – drawing one and winning the other 10.
“I was aware I had quite a good record, but not that good,” he said.
“Obviously I’ve got a slight insight into the mentality of what it’s like there to play there, and I make sure the players understand it. You’re not going to go there and get a comfortable afternoon.
“My teams have won a few important games there, actually. There was one in which Watford were 1-0 down and won 2-1 and secured our divisional status with three games to go.
“And the 6-1 win (the season before last) when I was the number two at Watford was a crucial one too.
“We had sold Marvin Sordell five minutes before the team meeting last season, and there was talk of Adrian Mariappa going, so we were pleased to win then.”
A similar outcome tomorrow would be equally pleasing for Dyche.
“I just hope that run continues and I’ll be working on the team to make sure it does,” he said.
“Millwall’s a tough place to go, but we feel at every ground at the minute – in every game – we’re confident in mood.
“We’ve made changes due to injuries and suspensions, but the players are standing up and holding their shirt and standing firm for themselves, the team and the club, which is great.
“But every week is a new challenge, and we’re sure to get a challenge when we go down to Millwall.
“Kenny’s got them on a nice little run. We’re on a good run ourselves, so it makes for a good affair.
“They have to fight and punch above their weight – similar but different to Burnley’s scenario – so it makes for a good challenge for them as well.
“I like managing realities, because that’s what you can affect.”