JED Wallace says he “thrives” on the edge the fans bring to stadiums as he produces his best when the atmosphere is tense.
Millwall were in that situation in their last home game against Blackpool, a team Lions fans would have expected their side to roll over, especially given the visitors had been a man down since the 14th minute.
There were 63 minutes on the clock as Wallace stood over a free-kick with the home fans wondering where a goal was going to come from.
They needn’t have worried.
Wallace bent a superb effort past Seasiders goalkeeper Chris Maxwell into the top-left corner.
That relieved the anxiety in the ground, only for it to crank up again as the game ticked towards 90 minutes and there was still no sign of a winner.
But when the ball bounced out to the right following a corner the one Millwall player you’d want to get there first did. Wallace curled a brilliant cross back in and Jake Cooper headed home to blow the lid off the pressure cooker and clinch Millwall’s first three points of the season.
Wallace has been rising to these kinds of occasions for a long time now. He knows he’s going to be judged on end product, and his goal against Blackpool was his third of the season after double-figures in consecutive campaigns.
He’s okay with that intense scrutiny.
“You’re always trying to be consistent,” Wallace told NewsAtDen. “I’ve definitely added that to my game, the last two years I’ve been more consistent in my performances.
“Sometimes you do just get judged on that final bit as an attacking player, and that’s fine. There have been times when I haven’t scored for ten games but played really well. Then you get four goals in 10 games when you’re not playing well and everyone says you’re playing really well.
“You get judged for that final pass, that finish, but I enjoy the pressure of that. I enjoyed the pressure in the stadium [against Blackpool] when it was maybe a little bit intense. I thrive on that pressure.
“I’ve missed having that pressure and that edge with fans in the stadium. It has fired me up even more to have a good start to the season.
“I like it. The Den’s an intimidating place but so is Fratton Park and I was playing every week. We were losing games every week and I was playing every week at eighteen, nineteen in front of 18,000.
“I learned early in my career that that was the level of pressure and it’s the same at Millwall. It’s a fanbase that demand effort and I’m always someone like the rest of the lads that give our all.
“Sometimes that pressure can drive you on. We used that against Blackpool to drive us on in the last half an hour. We played really well and we thoroughly deserved the win.
“It was important to get that win to ease a bit of pressure in the stands and on us as a team. Hopefully we can be a little bit more united together moving forward because when the fans are behind us at The Den and we’re playing well giving them sometime to cheer about, it’s one of the hardest places to go in the Championship, that’s for sure.”
Wallace has scored nine goals this calendar year, most from a position up front. But he is still a winger at heart.
“If you held a gun to my head and asked me my best position I’d probably say right wing,” he says. “Purely for the reason that’s where I’ve played most and have had success there.
“But I’ve scored quite a lot of goals playing through the middle as well. I know I can stretch defences.
“Ultimately people like myself, Murray Wallace, sometimes when the formation might not necessarily suit you you’ve got to be a good professional and find a way to get into the team, however that is, and stay in the team.
“That led to me playing up front. I’ve created a lot of chances, scored a few goals from that position and especially when we’ve played on the counter-attack away from home it’s certainly suited me.
“I’m happy to play anywhere. I always back myself to score and create chances wherever I play. If the manager feels that formation suits us better as a team I’d much rather us be winning games than worry about whatever the formation is.”
Image: Millwall FC