Millwall’s Mahlon Romeo on transition under Gary Rowett, the good and the ugly – and season’s aim

MAHLON Romeo says there is a “spiritual vibe” in the Millwall dressing room and believes the Lions should be targeting a top-six place this season.

Romeo, who made his first league start this season at Rotherham last Saturday, has been with Millwall since 2015, making him one of the Lions’ longest-serving players alongside Shaun Williams, Ben Thompson, and Shane Ferguson.

Shaun Hutchinson and Jed Wallace joined in 2016 and Jake Cooper in 2017 as Millwall won promotion to the Championship the latter year.

The Lions have finished eighth in two of the last three campaigns, and Romeo feels the bar should be raised even higher this term.

“I think everyone in the squad now knows what we’re capable of,” Romeo said. “We’ve been able to start this season with the manager there from the beginning, so he’s been able to implement his ideas which I think are really good and really working with the group we’ve got.

“Everyone knows that we’re capable of doing great things in this league. There’s kind of a spiritual vibe in the dressing room, everyone knows how far we can go – if we can implement and execute what the gaffer is telling us to do.

“It’s a different league this year but we’re going to go at it and grab it with both hands.

“A lot of us have been in League One together, we’ve been in the Champ together. We’ve known each other on and off the pitch for a very long time now. Building those relationships really helps.”

Mahlon Romeo is one of the Lions’ longest-serving players

One of the things boss Gary Rowett has implemented is a change of formation to 5-2-3 and a more patient, passing style.

That gives Romeo a freer attacking role as a right wing-back, and the defender has been impressed with how Rowett has evolved a team that played a more direct style in over four seasons under Neil Harris.

“The way he’s managed to transition it I don’t think he could have done it any better,” Romeo continued. “It wouldn’t have been easy to come into a team so set in its ways over the years.

“He’s added that in slowly and surely as a foundation, in terms of passing, he’s done that really well. Everyone’s really excited about this season. Everyone’s going to have to play because we’ve got a small squad as it is. Every player knows whether they’re starting a game or not they will eventually get the chance to play.

“We’re capable of playing both, the four or the five [in defence], which is a good tool to have. With this manager we can do both well.

“Personally I prefer the wing-back role. It allows me to be much more attacking and aggressive. If we keep playing it this year I’ve got my own personal goals and targets that I want to hit with the team. I’m raring to go.”

Rowett is encouraging his players to make more passes and keep possession waiting for opportunities to open teams up.

Romeo said: “It requires more from everyone. It’s something that we didn’t do as much in previous seasons but it’s something that we’re all capable of doing. Most players are at this level. We were doing it a lot more towards the end of last season, the trouble was doing it on our pitch because our pitch wasn’t great.

“But now we’ve got a good pitch, we’ve been playing the formation for a while and we know our strengths. Everyone in the whole squad can play that way.

“But one of the main things as well is that we can all do the ugly side of the game. That’s something that we had to do against Rotherham, we didn’t have the opportunity to pass and play maybe as much as we would have liked, as much as we could do against other teams this season.

“Having both is one of the most powerful strengths any side can have. Having those three defenders [Hutchinson, Cooper and Alex Pearce], I wouldn’t fancy playing against any of them. It’s really hard to break down, really, really strong.”

The defender has flourished in a right wing-back role

Romeo played with a groin problem towards the end of the 2019-20 season. And he revealed it is an issue that he will have to continue to manage.

“I had to be careful,” he said. “It was very frustrating towards the end of last season. It was a spanner in the works because it messes up the flow of things. The way things are going now, we’ve resolved it.

“I had to be careful,” he said. “It was very frustrating towards the end of last season. It was a spanner in the works because it messes up the flow of things. The way things are going now, we’ve resolved it.

“It’s really up to me, to be fair, and managing myself when I’m not playing games. It’s something I’m going to have to stay on top of for the foreseeable future.

“The way technology is nowadays, there are all these different instruments and whatnot. There are lasers, complex machines shooting little charges of electricity at the affected area. I’ve got a programme that I do with Bloomy [head of performance Laurence Bloom] and the sports science team.

“It was a short summer break as it was but then turned out to be even shorter for me. But I came through it and I’m feeling good, feeling strong and fit. I think the whole team is as well.

“It wasn’t so much of a break, really, it’s almost run straight into this season. Mentally I wouldn’t say I switched off which is a good thing. I’ve just come straight back into it.

“We won last weekend and kept a clean sheet and from a personal point of view it was good to get minutes. Each minute I play means I can shake off the rustiness that I picked up missing out on games in pre-season. I’d only played 45 minutes against Bromley. My first game back was against Cheltenham so it was good to get some minutes against Championship quality on Saturday.”

Asked if Millwall’s objective this season should be a top-six place, Romeo doesn’t hesitate.

“Comfortably, yes. I say comfortable because that’s what we should be aiming for. If you look at our seasons in the Championship we’ve done well finishing in the top ten. If we can stay consistent this season, which is the main thing, then that’s definitely our goal.

“Obviously it’s only been two games but we want to be up around the top six.”

Image: Millwall FC 

John Kelly