IT’S one of football’s most relied-upon clichés repeated by players and managers: Keep your head down, take your chance when it arrives, and you’ll get your rewards.
Tom Bradshaw has been the personification of that in recent games.
Bradshaw, 28, has made just seven league starts this season, and only started back-to-back league games for the first time this season this month.
But he grasped his opportunities, scoring against Bristol City and Nottingham Forest to help his side collect four points heading into what should have been a buoyant festive period before a Covid-19 outbreak in the Lions squad forced the postponement of two games.
Bradshaw faced increased competition for his place this campaign after the arrivals of Troy Parrott and Kenneth Zohore on loan from Tottenham and West Brom.
Despite six weeks without a start, Bradshaw showed little rustiness as he set the Lions on their way to victory against the Robins with a goal after 17 minutes at Ashton Gate.
He was determined to make an impact when called upon by Gary Rowett.
“We’ve got a bigger squad this year than we had last year and it’s been very much needed with the shear amount of games,” Bradshaw said. “The gaffer has changed the team quite a few times to cope with that.
“Even if you’re not playing as many games as you’d like, you’ve always got to be ready, especially this season more than most.
“I like to think I’m a good professional, I stay on top of my fitness and try to show the gaffer what I can do.
“So when I got the nod against Bristol away I was really eager to impress and get a good result for the team. That’s what happened and it was good to back it up in the Forest game.
“That’s what it’s about, getting results, doing your best to stay in the team and scoring goals.
“When you’re scoring goals and they’re flowing you want to play as many games as possible. So from that perspective I’m a little bit gutted that the games aren’t going ahead.
“But I’m viewing it as I can spend more time at Christmas with my family and just to freshen up all round. I’ll be ready and raring to go on January 2 against Coventry.”
Bradshaw’s recent mini-resurgence will feel familiar to Jon Dadi Bodvarsson.
The Iceland international has struggled to nail down a first-team place since his move from Reading in the summer of 2019, starting just 19 games in the league.
Bodvarsson’s difficulties seemed to be summed up when he missed an excellent chance to put Millwall ahead late on in their game against Cardiff in November.
But he was praised by Rowett for his mental toughness after bouncing back to get his first goal of the season against QPR a couple of weeks later.
Bodvarsson, 28, has led the line for Millwall in their last two games, setting up Bradshaw for his goal against Forest.
“Me and Jon this season have struggled to keep a place in the starting line-up, so the fact we’ve played so well together and picked up two decent results as well has been a great feeling,” Bradshaw said.
“For any striker, when goals start dropping for you and you feel like you’re in the flow of getting goals it’s very positive.
“Our partnership seems to be working really well at the moment, so long that may that continue.”
Bradshaw played just behind Bodvarsson in a 4-4-1-1 formation in the last two games. That goal against Forest showed their understanding, as Bradshaw set his team-mate away down the left before timing his run into the box, pointing to the space in front of him, and then side-footing Bodvarsson’s clever cut-back past Brice Samba.
Bradshaw said: “It’s one of the things you work on, you work on multiple ways of getting into the final third and scoring goals.
“He did really well to drive at the centre-back and open that space. And it was the perfect ball for me as well because it didn’t bounce in front of me at pace, it was a great weight. As long as you get the contact right it should end up in the back of the net.
“It was a great ball and great work from Jon. I really appreciated it, being in that position, and getting a relatively easy tap-in, really.”
Bradshaw will be denied an immediate chance to continue his run of scoring form, after Millwall’s games against Bournemouth on Boxing Day and Watford three days later were called off.
Bradshaw wasn’t one of the positive Covid tests in the squad. He was desperate to play against the Cherries, but is putting things in perspective this Christmas.
“It’s almost back to square one in terms of individual training and small-group training. It’s a bit of déjà vu from earlier in the coronavirus pandemic,” Bradshaw said.
“I think it’s a lot easier this time. Last time it was really prolonged over a matter of months rather than a week to 10 days. It should be a lot easier this time to maintain fitness.
“And it could actually be a positive as well because a lot of lads in the team have played three games a week for a couple of months, really.
“That will work in our favour. In terms of maintaining fitness I don’t think it will be too much of an issue. Hopefully it will give everyone a chance to freshen up for the games in the New Year.
“It’s one of those rare occasions where it’s worked out quite well. It’s almost non-existent in football that you don’t have a game on Boxing Day. So from that perspective there are positives to take out of it, the lads will get to spend Christmas with their families.
“That’s the way we’re viewing it, more positively rather than the fact that it’s two games postponed.
“It’s not great for the fans, and for me I’m loving my football at the moment so I want to play as many games as possible.
“But you’ve got to take the positives out of the situation.”
Image: Millwall FC