MILLWALL fans want defeat to hurt their side – but maybe even they would have regretted the way Murray Wallace reacted to the loss against Coventry in January.
No Lions supporter has ever doubted the Scot’s commitment, but when he was sent off late on in the 2-1 defeat to the Sky Blues he took out his anger on an object in the tunnel.
Whether that caused his broken foot he’s not sure, but he missed more than two months before returning to the team last Saturday after just two training sessions.
It won’t surprise Lions supporters, either, to hear that even while he was wearing a protective boot Wallace was in the gym hitting the rowing machine and the weights to maintain his strength and fitness.
And when Gary Rowett asked him how he felt the day before the trip to Derby there was only ever going to be one answer from the man Millwall fans affectionately refer to as ‘Mountain Murray’.
The defender put himself forward for selection, and started in the demanding left wing-back position as the Lions defeated the Rams 1-0 at Pride Park.
“I was delighted to be back out on the pitch with the lads. Especially this season with Saturday-Tuesdays you end up missing a lot of games, which is always disappointing,” Wallace told NewsAtDen.
“It was my left foot. It was a moment of anger after the Coventry game. I don’t know if I’d damaged it in the game but I kicked out at something in the tunnel and I don’t think that helped the situation!
“I didn’t know how bad it was but I tried to train the following week and it was no good. So I went for the scan and it was confirmed.
“What I was worried about initially was what would I be able to do to keep my fitness up, etc. It was actually okay because when I was in the boot there was a lot I could do fitness-wise.
“I could still go on the rowing machines, the bike, could still do a lot of gym sessions and strengthening sessions, so it was good in that sense.
“I had to leave it in the boot for a while before I could start putting any real pressure on it or anything through it.
“I spent five weeks or so in the boot and then maybe had a week on an anti-gravity treadmill.
“It was a bit of a surprise to me [to be in the team at Derby]. I did a little bit of training on Tuesday, did my first session on the Wednesday and second full session on the Friday.
“The manager spoke to me and asked me how I felt and how my fitness was. I felt I’d been doing quite a lot and working hard through the rehab.
“Fitness wasn’t so much an issue, it was more match sharpness but that’s always going to be the case when you’re out for that length of time.
“I told him I felt fit, my body felt good, my foot felt good. It’s almost like coming back from pre-season, it’s hard to get that sharpness unless you play games.
“That was the only concern that we had. I wanted to get back out there to do the best for the team.
“It’s probably one of the more demanding positions in that formation that we play. I was a little bit worried I might blow up.
“But we thought it through sensibly and had a plan where [Rowett] wasn’t looking for me to bomb forward every time. It was more important to manage it and it worked out.
“I think there was a moment in the first half when there was a one-two and I thought, ‘oh God, this could be a long afternoon’.”
Wallace, 28, has been at Millwall for almost three seasons and while he was recovering from injury agreed a new long-term deal that could see him with the club past his 30th birthday.
Not that he looked that far ahead when he signed from Scunthorpe in the summer of 2018.
He could have let his contract run down and reaped the potential financial reward of a signing-on fee elsewhere.
Injury is always a risk for players that decide on that route, but Wallace explained his January setback was not a factor in his decision to extend his stay in SE16.
“No, not really. It had been in the works for a while, we had been talking before Christmas so it was just about ironing out the finer details of it,” Wallace said.
“I was very happy to have it done because I’ve really enjoyed my time at Millwall, brilliant team, brilliant staff and the club has done very well. It’s something I wanted to continue to be part of.
“You’ve got a contract for a certain amount of time but that doesn’t mean you’ll be at that football club for all that time.
“I didn’t have it set in my mind that this would be the next five, six years. You approach it like, ‘this is the club that I’m at and I’m going to give it everything to do my best and see where it takes me’.
“Thankfully I’ve really enjoyed my time here and that’s why I’m so happy to extend my stay here.”
Arguably Wallace’s finest moment in a Millwall shirt was his 94th-minute winner in the 3-2 FA Cup fourth-round win over Everton at The Den in January 2019.
He misses the fans, and was reminded of those kinds of explosive atmospheres during his time out.
“I think it’s one of those things that you’ll look back and think, ‘I can’t believe we played through that, what a strange and surreal time’,” Wallace said.
“Initially it was just different but we all coped quite well. You still miss the atmosphere the fans bring. I think it has affected teams’ results.
“You get real swings in momentums in games and sometimes that’s down to the fans, that noise when they get behind you and it can turn games. They’re massively missed.
“It was in January and I was out injured and I think Millwall had just announced that I’d signed my contract. They put up a few clips [on social media] of the Everton goal and the atmosphere.
“It’s brilliant to look at even in the best of times when you’ve got fans, but seeing as we don’t have fans at the minute it reminded you how much you miss those sorts of reactions [to goals].
“That’s what football is all about, you score a goal and run over to the fans to celebrate with them.
“It’s a shame that we’re missing moments like that at this time.”
Image: Millwall FC