GARY Rowett praised his players’ “belief” after an “end-of-season” feel to the first half as Mason Bennett scored a second-half winner to lift Millwall to ninth in the table with their 2-1 win at Stoke City on Easter Monday.
Murray Wallace put the Lions in front in the 35th minute before Jacob Brown equalised for the hosts four minutes before the break.
Rowett brought on Maikel Kieftenbeld for Kenneth Zohore at the break to strengthen midfield, and Millwall went 2-1 up when Jed Wallace went past Danny Batth to square for Bennett to score.
“They’ve got some very physical players in there and some very good, very technical players as well,” Rowett said. “I felt first half they were the better side.
“We played Jed Wallace around [John Obi] Mikel thinking that he might be able to run off him and get into good positions, but actually Mikel’s experience showed in dragging Jed away and into areas he didn’t want to be in.
“They had that extra man in midfield which allowed them to get into the box for some long-range shots. They didn’t create too many chances but neither did we.
“To go in at 1-1 at half-time, I was displeased because we were 1-0 up and conceded a very poor goal, but I couldn’t really complain as I could see it coming.
“I thought the second half was completely different. We made the change to get another midfielder in there and I thought we controlled the game second half and were the better side.
“We had more energy and started to move the ball around, maybe didn’t create quite as many chances as we’d have liked but we got into some very good positions and took the goal very well.
“I know it was a mistake from Danny Batth as he slid in and didn’t quite catch the ball but it was a good finish and we had other good moments as well.
“I thought we were by far the better side second half and then it was whether we could defend properly in the last 10 to 15 [minutes]. We never really came under any serious threat of losing the lead.
“Yes [our boys were alert to the mistake from Batth] and it was good play in the build-up to it. Scotty Malone puts Billy Mitchell in, it’s a late run and good play from Billy.
“Jed and Mason were bright all game – they’re not really strikers but they cause problems with their movement and good play.
“I thought Jed was excellent today, when he just comes off the front and drifts into those little pockets then he’s very dangerous. He was excellent on the ball and looked really bright.
“What I liked about our team in the second half was that we just showed a bit more belief. First half, it looked like an end-of-season game with no atmosphere, it was a bit flat on the pitch but second half we had more energy and spirit and got something out of the game because of that.
“I’m pleased with my players’ mentality.”
Millwall were unfortunate on Monday that the other sides chasing the play-offs all won, meaning they stayed eight points off sixth.
Rowett added: “For us, we finished eighth last season and we were disappointed in the end as we felt we could have snuck in the play-offs. We’re ninth at the moment, we’re a side that just go out there every game and see if we can win another game.
“We certainly can’t be blase about where we’re going to finish, we’ve just got to keep scrapping and fighting and see how high we can finish.
“If that means putting pressure on the teams in the top areas of the division, then that’s our job.
“I’m not sat here stupid enough to say we’re going to finish in the top six. What I’m saying is, we’ve got to try to win every game to see if we can finish higher than eighth.
“If we don’t, then we’ll have given it everything we’ve got and if we do, then fabulous. That’s our job, we’ve got fans watching at home who can’t get to games so the least we can do is give them a little bit of something to cheer about and feel positive about at the end of the season.”
Image: Millwall FC