Millwall boss on ‘gamble’ – and why he didn’t celebrate winner against Blackpool ‘like a lunatic’

GARY Rowett admitted he felt for Blackpool manager Neil Critchley after Millwall scored a 90th-minute winner against the Seasiders at The Den on Saturday.

The Lions trailed against 10-man Blackpool after Shayne Lavery’s 56th-minute goal before Jed Wallace levelled with a free-kick in the 63rd minute and provided the cross for Jake Cooper’s clincher.

Rowett started with a 5-2-3 formation with Wallace, Matt Smith and Benik Afobe up front. And though Blackpool lost Callum Connolly to a 14th-minute red card for a professional foul on Afobe, the Lions struggled to break down the visitors.

The tension at The Den shot up when Lavery scored and heading into injury-time it looked like it was going to be a fifth league game without a win this season until Cooper’s first goal of the campaign.

“It wasn’t an easy game today. I felt it might be a game that would be better if the players had an option to play forward a bit quicker. So that’s why we started Smudge,” Rowett explained.

“We took a bit of a gamble starting Smudge, Benik and Jed as a front three, because I felt it might have left us a little bit open off the ball at times. But I wanted to stick with a five [in defence] just because it’s something we’ve played so often.

“I don’t think we stepped in enough in wide centre-back positions today. Sometimes you have to step and try and overload, that’s why I changed Coops and Murray Wallace first half. I felt Muzza would do it with a bit more front-foot play, being a full-back.

“They actually dealt with Smudge really well today, balls up to him, crosses in the box. They did that really, really well.

“Ultimately it looked like that wasn’t going to work, but we stuck with it and got our rewards in the end.”

Rowett’s squad now get a short break heading into the first set of international fixtures and he was asked if it comes at the right time.

“I’ll be really honest, as a manager after just winning a first game in five I don’t want a game for two weeks!” he joked.

“I think it’ll do us good, a little bit of time away from the training ground before getting back to work and working incredibly hard to try to improve our performances.

“If you look at all of the games in their entirety it was probably only the Cardiff game where we were really disappointed with some of the moments that turned the game.

“Today, for me, it was whether we could go on and win the game with enough quality after going 1-0 down.

“The first two league games of the season were very positive, I thought the two cup games were very positive.

“Fulham beat Stoke today who are a really good side so I think it’s clear that Fulham are a step above a lot of teams.

“So I think it’s a few moments in one game that’s clouded how we all feel, which was going into today’s game feeling a bit nervous, a bit edgy.

“When the second goal went in if I’m being really honest I’d normally celebrate like a lunatic but I actually felt for Neil because I thought his team worked incredibly hard.

“It was a real blow for him at the end of the game because I thought they had worked and deserved something out of it for the desire they showed and their work-rate.

“But, the win was important for us and for that I’m grateful.”

Image: Millwall FC 

John Kelly