YOU won’t hear Ryan Woods complaining about the hectic schedule this season – because that’s exactly what he wanted at Millwall.
Woods had fallen out of favour at parent club Stoke before he joined the Lions on a loan deal in January 2020 and then for a season last summer.
Former Shrewsbury and Brentford midfielder Woods has already made 39 appearances this season, featuring in 34 out of Millwall’s 36 league games.
Millwall had hoped to be top-six challengers this campaign after finishing eighth last season, but that looks unlikely with a 12-point gap to the play-offs.
But Woods has been pleased with his own form and his regular place in Gary Rowett’s side, as he targets a top-half finish.
“It’s been great. As I said last season one of the reasons I joined was to try to play as many games as possible,” Woods said.
“I’ve been really happy to play pretty much every game.
“I was talking to Jed [Wallace] and he was saying it’s the fourth season back in the Championship and to finish three out of those four seasons in the top 10 would be a very good achievement for any team, especially Millwall.
“There have been quite a few big players out injured who have been a miss for us. But they’ll have a couple of more weeks, then the international break and hopefully we’ll get a few more back ready for the last eight games.
“Hopefully then we can push on and improve and see where that takes us.”
The quality of pitches has been an issue for players this season, with so many games in a shorter period of time. Millwall had hoped to replace the Den surface last summer but shelved those plans with such a short pre-season and because of the cost of the project combined with no gate income.
However, the Den turf didn’t stop Woods from flicking the ball over the head of former Lions’ midfielder Jayson Molumby before picking out Mason Bennett with a lovely ball over the top for the winner against Preston this month.
Have the former Millwall team-mates exchanged banter since then?
“No, we haven’t unfortunately. He’s been pretty quiet since that, to be honest,” Woods joked.
“It was pretty nice for me to be able to do that, especially on the surfaces and the pitches we’ve been playing on recently. It’s been difficult.
“It’s not just at The Den, it’s all over. This season’s been tough for us as players but also for the pitches because they’ve also not had any rest. The groundsmen have not been able to do any work on them.
“They’ve been really bad and it’s been hard to try to play, definitely the way I want to play. It’s difficult to try to read the ball, whether it’s going to bobble.
“You always have to take one or two more touches than you want to.”
After a poor run of form of just one win in 15 league games, boss Gary Rowett changed from two in midfield to three.
Woods felt that helped the side out.
He said: “It’s difficult because if you look at the majority of the teams in this division the football hasn’t been great, in my opinion, from anybody in particular. The majority of the time when we’ve played a two we were a man short. A lot of teams opt for three in there nowadays.
“It just gave us more of an opportunity to be able to affect the game getting on second balls, you had the opportunity to be up against someone rather than gambling in space.”
Woods has been Mr Consistency this season. He has been one of the first names on the team sheet playing with multiple midfield partners: Ryan Leonard, Shaun Williams, Maikel Kieftenbeld, Ben Thompson and Billy Mitchell.
“He’s a good lad, Bill, he works really, really hard and he’s deserved his opportunity, especially with the injuries we’ve got,” Woods said.
“I thought he did really well in his first game. The second game was a little bit more difficult, but I think everyone this season has had that moment.
“But he works really hard and he’s only going to get better, especially with his attitude.
“[Thompson] brought that energy that’s difficult to find at the moment in this period of games when you’re playing Tuesday-Saturday. It’s been non-stop.
“So for us to be able to have those sorts of players who are full of energy has been a great help.”
Millwall turned their form around this year to pull well clear of the relegation zone. Woods explained why he never feared the side would be drawn into a battle against the drop.
“If you probably asked one or two of the other lads you’d maybe have got a yes from them. But I never was,” he said.
“I know we went a few games without a win but I always knew we’d come out of it and look stronger on the other side.
“Then we went nine unbeaten and that’s what we’re capable of. If there’s one thing we are it’s very strong at the back. We’re difficult to beat.
“This season has been different to others with no fans and whatnot. We’re trying to finish as high as we can.
“With the group we have, the attitude, the willingness to want to do well, being very difficult to beat, I think we’ll always do okay.”
Image: Millwall FC