CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW: Millwall vs. Blackburn

MATT Smith was never worried about being dragged into a relegation battle this season – as he had faith in the “strength of the pack” at Millwall.

When the Lions lost 3-1 to Nottingham Forest on January 16 they were only seven points above the bottom three.

But a nine-game unbeaten run following that reverse pushed Millwall 14 points above Rotherham in 22nd before Tuesday’s game against Preston. It would take a hugely unlikely collapse in form for Gary Rowett’s side to drop into a relegation scrap with 12 games left.

Millwall went through a 10-game winless run from October to December and won only one in 15 in the league, but even then they showed their resilience was still there with creditable draws against promotion-chasing Bournemouth and Norwich. Only six of the games were defeats.

Smith knew the side would eventually emerge from that tough spell.

“Absolutely, I don’t think there were games where we had been blown away, we were always very, very competitive,” Smith said.

“The desire to turn a few of those draws into wins was there, against the top sides we’ve been pretty good.

“There was that confidence there from last season, finishing eighth after 46 games is no mean feat.

“We did have that inner belief that we could start putting more points on the board and we find ourselves in a good position.”

Matt Smith scores against Reading

There was no panic at Calmont Road despite Millwall slipping out of the play-off positions and dropping to 17th after their 2-1 defeat at home to Coventry on January 2.

Smith revealed Rowett is open to taking on board the thoughts of his more experienced players.

Smith said: “The manager always has open dialogues with us senior pros, he has done the minute he came through the door.

“I remember having a meeting with him almost instantly. He’s always lent on the senior players in terms of group morale, how we’re feeling, what we’re thinking.

“As a collective we’ve always been a very close group, which has been well-documented, over time. The team spirit is incredible at Millwall and it is one of our biggest strengths, the strength of the pack.”

Millwall enjoyed their most productive month in the league in front of goal in February, scoring 10 times in seven games.

They had only scored five goals in six games the previous month.

“Form in front of goal largely boils down to confidence, and goals breed confidence. You sometimes get something out of nothing and then build on that,” Smith said.

“We obviously practise patterns of play, crossing and finishing. It’s ultimately the clinical touch that’s going to push you up the league.

“We’ve scored a few more goals and that can only stand us in good stead.”

Meanwhile, the Lions are again without Ryan Leonard, Murray Wallace and Kenneth Zohore against Blackburn Rovers at The Den this Saturday. Connor Mahoney and Maikel Kieftenbeld are unlikely to return.

Rovers were eighth at the end of January and seemingly poised to challenge for the top six, but they have since slipped out of play-off contention.

Possible Millwall starting XI: 5-2-3: Bialkowski; Romeo, Evans, Hutchinson, Cooper, Malone; Woods, Mitchell; J Wallace, Smith, Bennett.

Last meeting: Championship (December 2, 2020): Blackburn 2-1 Millwall (Elliott 25, Armstrong 90 + 1; Malone 34).

Match odds: Millwall 7/5 Draw 12/5 Blackburn 12/5

Image: Millwall FC