Millwall skipper on team-mates’ resilience, Mason Bennett – and how the Lions have ‘ideal blend’

ALEX Pearce believes Millwall have a “really good mix” of experience, keen youngsters and the right attitude to build on consecutive top-half Championship finishes.

The Lions’ placing of 11th was their third top-half finish in four seasons that also included two play-off challenges.

The only difficult season since their return from League One was in 2018-19 when Millwall only guaranteed their safety on the second-last day and Neil Harris admitted there had been problems in the dressing room.

But a number of the players that Harris brought to the club – Bart Bialkowski, Mahlon Romeo, Shaun Hutchinson, Jake Cooper, Murray Wallace and Jed Wallace – are set to form the core again in the next campaign.

At the time of writing Millwall were hopeful that Pearce, 32, and Matt Smith – who will be 32 at the start of next season – would sign new deals.

Boss Gary Rowett doesn’t want to lose too many experienced players this summer after Frank Fielding, Shaun Williams and Shane Ferguson were informed they could leave at the end of their contracts in June.

Danny McNamara and Billy Mitchell were handed senior friendly and competitive debuts respectively by Harris, and both became regulars in the side in 2021.

Pearce also praised those players who got little rest in a season that had to be completed between the middle of September and the start of May.

“I could go through a lot of the team – Jed, Coops – fantastic how they keep churning out these performances week-in, week-out, Hutchy before he got injured playing every minute of every game. Bart playing every minute of every game.

“Woodsy [Ryan Woods] in midfield, Scott Malone, each and every one of us has played our part. The lads have got through some big numbers in terms of physical outputs so it’s an absolute credit to them.

“It’s a really good group and it just shows you how far that kind of thing can take you.

“I noticed it [a higher level in training] straightway when Danny Mac came back from his loan spell. Straightaway you could see he’s got the club in his heart, he’s desperate to do well.

“It’s the same with Billy. They’ve both got fantastic attitudes. They’re still learning every day but they’re doing really well, they just need to keep it going and keep their standards high.”

Pearce has been impressed with the performances of Mason Bennett, who joined Millwall initially on loan from Derby in January 2020 before a permanent move in the summer.

Bennett scored six goals last season, five of them in 17 games in 2021 after he had been moved up front with Wallace.

“Mason’s been brilliant,” Pearce said. “I think he’s had a real standout season in his career. It’s the most he’s ever scored in a season.

“He really stepped up to the plate. He’s a senior player in our dressing room now, he’s played a lot of games, he’s been around a long time.

Jed Wallace and Mason Bennett formed a new partnership up front

“He feels really part of it here and he’s a key player for us, him and Jed have formed a great partnership up front. They both seem to dovetail off each other really, really well.

“That seems to be a positive thing to come out of it after we had some injuries up there with Ken [Zohore] out.”

“We’ve got four or five senior lads, maybe more, that drive the standards in training. You’ve then got a younger group of players that are willing to learn from the senior pros.

“It’s a really good mix, the ideal blend and one that I think can take the club forward.

“Overall you’ve got to be appreciative of how well this group has done this year again.”

Image: Millwall FC