SOME players can tend to put their feet up when there’s little left to play for in their season – but don’t suggest to Alex Pearce there’s any possibility of that happening at Millwall.
You’ll be quickly set straight.
The Lions have, for the last few weeks, realistically only been playing for a place in the top half of the table.
Yet they defeated Middlesbrough, Rotherham and Stoke for three consecutive wins and went to the new home of the top scorers, Brentford, last weekend and their draw meant Norwich were promoted.
Millwall could have even won that game and there was no sense whatsoever they were about to take their foot off the gas.
Pearce insists “there is always something to play for” and “personal pride takes over” as soon as Lions players set foot in the dressing room.
Millwall have three games left, against Watford, Bristol City and Coventry, and are aiming to secure consecutive top-ten finishes as this level for the first time since 2005.
Pearce had a sharp response when it was suggested the Lions had little on the line for the remainder of this season.
“I disagree with that,” he said, speaking before the midweek game against Bournemouth. “I think there’s always something on the line. Every time you step out onto the pitch there is something on the line.
“Your reputation, your pride, your personal pride. No one wants to go out there and get beaten, whether there’s nothing to play for or whether you’re chasing promotion.
“There’s always something to play for and as soon as you get into that dressing room and start getting ready for the game, your personal pride takes over.
“You want to win the game, you want to win as many games as possible. And that will certainly be the case for this group going into the last [three] games.
“The motivation will still be high, as you saw against Brentford. The motivation to do well in that game was high and I thought we actually could have won the game.
“We had some good chances and we were unlucky not to take them.
“I think overall we can be very pleased with our season, again. This season and last season since the gaffer came in we’ve performed consistently.
“To get hopefully two top-10 finishes after finishing eighth last year, that’s a good achievement for us.
“As players we can be pleased with how we’ve performed. Of course we want more, of course we want to be better. We constantly strive for that within the group and we push each other every day in training, push the standards.
“We want to try to break into that top six, of course, but as a club we can be pleased with another good season.”
Pearce believes Millwall’s performance over the course of the campaign is even more impressive given their injury problems.
Gary Rowett will not have had a full squad to choose from for any of the 46 league games this season. Eleven players have missed a month or more and earlier this week there were eight first-team players unable to take part in full training.
“You know what, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an injury crisis like it at a club,” Pearce said. “I know the amount of games has played a part, the sheer volume of the load, and people have had injuries.
“We’ve certainly had our fair share of it, to say the least, I think we’ve been really unlucky with injuries. We’ve missed key players at key times.
“But as a group we’ve all pulled together and it shows the strength of the squad that when we have had key players out others have stepped in and done well, done decent jobs for the team.
“That’s been the really pleasing thing. Players have stepped up to the mark and we haven’t suffered too much, which has been a really positive thing.”
Before they played Bournemouth on Wednesday, Millwall had kept 17 clean sheets in the Championship this season. Only the top three had conceded fewer than them, and they could finish with the best defence outside the top six.
Last season, they had the sixth-best defence in the Championship, and that consistency is another source of pride for Millwall’s captain.
He also praised Rowett for the organisation of the side.
“That’s been the real basis of our success over the last couple of years since the gaffer’s come in, he’s really got us set up very solidly as a team,” Pearce said.
“It’s not just the back four or five, it really is a real team effort. The attackers in the team do as much defending as the defenders, they really do. We really couldn’t keep as many clean sheets as we have without everyone pulling in that same direction.
“That has been a real strength of ours, we’re very solid and hard to beat and we keep a lot of clean sheets.”
While Pearce is satisfied with Millwall’s defensive stability, he recognises they need to score more to force their way into a play-off fight.
But he doesn’t only put that pressure on the forward players.
“Obviously going the other way we’ve got things to work on, we’d like to add more goals to the team,” Pearce said. “Again, that’s not just the attackers. The defenders need to chip in with more goals, everyone included going both ways.
“We have found it difficult at times against teams lower down the league. Maybe that’s partly because of how we play. We defend quite deep at times and we’re happy for the opposition to have the ball.
“That suits us against the top teams, we’re not expected to have the ball as much. We’re expected to defend quite deep and hit them on the transition. So when we play the top teams that kind of game plan works.
“When it’s the other way round, when we play the bottom sides, when we have the ball, that’s when we need to be better in breaking teams down. Having more possession of the ball and being better with it.
“That’s where we need to progress. If we want to be a real top side that’s where we’ll be looking to improve.”
Image: Millwall FC