It was the worst kept secret in our Millwall world, however this week we finally saw forward Lee Gregory complete his move to join up with Nathan Jones and co. at Stoke City. Ending what was a five year stay in SE16, it now brings an end of an era, with not only Gregory leaving; we also last week said goodbye to Steve Morison.
With both Morison and Gregory 3rd and 8th on the all time goalscoring charts for Millwall, no one can take away the efforts the pair put into the club. However, where Morison is leaving and dropping down a division and turning out for Shrewsbury Town next season. Gregory on the other hand will be a competitor in our division with aspirations to make it to the big time and become a Premier League player by next summer.
Turning 31 in August, if you go by the usual career of a footballer it presents probably the last shot of Gregory’s career to have a serious impact at the higher level of English Football. No on can begrudge Gregory the chance of making something of a success at Stoke, especially considering when you fully digest his own journey whilst with us at The Den.
Joining from Halifax Town in 2014 under then manager Ian Holloway, for the first time in what seemed for years at Millwall, we finally spent money on a number nine striker who we hoped would bag goals and allow us to compete in The Championship. Starting the season with wins against Leeds and away at Fulham, optimism was high but little did we know at the time we would ultimately get relegated to League One come season end. Ian Holloway promised us a striker we would identify with, and even compared Gregory to strikers of the past who had successes for the club, pressure was there from the start.
Gregory finished the season with nine goals in 39 league appearances, in what was his first season as a fully fledged pro, it can and should be looked back at as a success for the striker. However, given the performance of the club that season, even I myself at times scapegoated Gregory, with a handful of high profile misses in games we needed an impact most. I still remember that sitter away to Rotherham only for the home side to score literally seconds later at the other end!
Gregory obviously wasn’t to blame for us going down that season, but the silver lining from that dreadful year was the appointment of our own legendary club number nine, and still manager now Neil Harris. Immediately playing up Gregory and putting his full faith in the forward, Harris seemed to have his own target of making Gregory his main man. Under Holloway, Gregory often played as a lone striker, however immediately whilst in caretaker charge Harris put this right with offering Gregory a strike partner, and performances improved with Gregory ending the last home game of the season with a hat-trick against Derby County.
Albeit a division lower the following season, 2015-16 brought Gregory’s most prolific season for the club with 27 goals, followed by tallies of 18, 10 and 13 the season just gone now. Goals are obviously the the fundamental thing strikers are judged on, however what makes Gregory a name we will remember for a while yet is his determination and work rate at the front of the pack.
Yes, you could argue Steve Morison was an important factor in the partnership between the pair, but the development of Gregory whilst with us was highlighted most last season. Playing the majority of the second half of the season as a lone striker and still adding goals, it highlights how much Gregory had worked on improving his own game, which led to him becoming the valuable cog in the side we all noticed.
Gregory was a presence in the side we will really miss next season and with Tom Bradshaw returning this summer from his injury, I truly hope we have a ready made replacement for Gregory already. Winning player of the season before leaving this summer highlighted what a fan favourite Gregory had become, but also showed the journey he went on to win us over as a fanbase. I don’t think you will find a single Lions fan who wouldn’t wish Gregory the best of luck, aside from of course two fixtures in the coming season against us.
All the best, Lee Gregory!