Connect with us

Millwall ready to seize the day in latest shot at ending wait for top-flight football


Millwall ready to seize the day in latest shot at ending wait for top-flight football

If they beat Blackburn at The Den today, they will reach the play-offs and be as close to the top flight as they have been in three decades.

Millwall have suffered near misses in each of Gary Rowett’s previous three seasons in charge, either falling away from the top six or coming up short, and the 49-year-old is wary of his players being dazzled by the clearest glimpse yet of the promised land.

“Of course, the Premier League is the prize but if you focus too much on the prize you’re going to lose your footing along the way,” Rowett said. “It’s like the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. You can see the prize 100m ahead and there’s arrows flying all around you. And if you purely focus on the prize and don’t have your wits about you, you [lose] focus on the obstacles in your way.”

Those obstacles have included dispiriting defeats by Birmingham and rock-bottom Wigan, suggesting Millwall were headed for another collapse, but Rowett’s side recovered to beat Blackpool 3-2 last Friday, leaving their fate in their own hands against Rovers, who must win to sneak into contention themselves.

“The gaffer proved his experience in the build-up to the Blackpool game,” said captain Shaun Hutchinson. “As players, we were all devastated by the situation we’d put ourselves in. He had a meeting with the senior boys and pressed the reset button. We were refreshed and a lot more focused.”

Whatever happens on Monday, Rowett believes Millwall have made “massive progress” (though they can only finish with two more points than last season), and there has been no magic formula to their improvement.

“What’s separated this season from past seasons is consistency,” said Hutchinson, their longest-serving player. “This team has an incredible knack of finding a way of getting a result, and that’s a skill in itself. And we’ve had a more competitive squad. This season we’ve had players on the bench who are more than capable of changing a game.”

Striker Tom Bradshaw is having the season of his life, with 17 league goals and counting, the likes of Billy Mitchell and Danny McNarama are a year more experienced, stalwarts such as Hutchinson and Jake Cooper have continued to perform and there are promising young players coming through.

The summer recruitment was also canny, a mixture of experienced Championship heads in George Honeyman and Duncan Watmore, promising youngsters including Leeds loanee Charlie Cresswell and a marquee signing in Zian Flemming.

‘The Bermondsey Bergkamp’ has lived up to his moniker, and his ice-cool winner from the spot against Blackpool was his 15th league goal, leading Rowett to describe him and Bradshaw as the most lethal pairing in the division.

“I’ve never seen a foreign player come into the league and settle as quickly,” Hutchinson said of the club-record signing. “He has an aura about him that gives the team confidence. The first day he walked in, we said, ‘I wouldn’t sit on that peg mate, it’s cursed. The past three players haven’t performed and been sold’. And he said, ‘No problem, I’ll change that’.”

In a season where the reputation of American owners in English football has taken a battering, thanks to Chelsea’s Todd Boehly, Rowett believes chairman John Berylson also deserves a share of the credit.

Consistency has played a part in being a strong Championship club.

Berylson, a Boston native and New England Patriots fan, is used to his teams winning, but his patient and astute running of the club since 2007 has helped Millwall, who have the 16th biggest budget in the Championship, to consistently punch above their weight.

“He values continuity,” Rowett said. “He doesn’t change managers willy-nilly, he trusts people to do their jobs. He’s incredibly supportive and he’s a winner.

“I know he’s put a lot of his personal money into the club. He doesn’t seek the limelight. He does everything you’d want a good owner to do. That consistency has played a part in being a strong Championship club for a period.”

The dream is not to be a Championship club for much longer, and Monday’s match is shaping up to be one of the biggest in their modern history at a sold-out Den.

“There’s one big game left,” said Rowett. “They know what’s at stake.”

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in Sports

To Top