BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Ben Thompson reckons he is playing with a new-found freedom – his no-fear approach aided by his new role at Millwall.
The 23-year-old is playing in a number 10 role for the Lions and has scored four times in 2019 since returning from a highly successful loan at Portsmouth.
Thompson put in another starring display in Saturday’s 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion – his cross being turned into his own net by Ahmed Hegazi in the second half.
“I am just playing with freedom,” said Thompson. “I just feel like, what’s the worst that can happen? It’s a game of football at the end of the day. You have got to give it your all and make sure this club stays up. That’s all I can do, and I know the boys will do the same.
“When I left Millwall to go on loan to Portsmouth I felt like I needed to prove something. I needed to prove a point, I needed to play well.
“I was going on loan, I wasn’t wanted at Millwall at the time. I wanted to prove people wrong. I thought the only way I can do that is to play with freedom, play as I know I can.
“I am just going out on the pitch and enjoying every minute and doing things that I wouldn’t have done before – last year or the year before.
“I have learnt off other players, the experienced pros. I am going into games with no fear, that is how I play my best football.
“I went to go out on loan for the season to gain that confidence back. I didn’t have the confidence last season. I was in the team for the cup games and coming on as a sub every now and then, but it was demoralising if anything.
“It was a horrible place to be in and I didn’t want that again. I wanted to just play my football – week in and week out. You can’t beat that buzz on a Saturday afternoon knowing that you are going out in front of 10,000, 15,000 or 20,000 at Pompey.
“You can’t beat that feeling.
“He [Neil Harris] sent me out on loan. He thought it was best for me at the time, I think it was because I have come back and I feel a better player now than I did before.
“Last year the team did so well, I didn’t really have an argument. I had never played in the Championship before. I came on as a sub a couple of times, but I haven’t got that sort of experience. I couldn’t really say to the manager that I am going to be better than these players, why am I not playing, because they were doing well.
“Look where we finished in the league last year, so it was tough. But now I feel like I have cemented my place at the moment and long may it continue.”
Thompson’s current playing duties are far more offensive-minded than in the past.
And he feels he should have added to his scoring haul in the vital victory over the Baggies.
“I missed a sitter – got through and shanked it over with my left foot,” said Thompson. “I should definitely have done better and I was kicking myself after. We had a few more chances. It could have been 3-0, 4-0 or 5-0. But then again, they missed a penalty, so that could have changed everything.
That is how football goes.
“I am loving playing this role, I am linking up with Lee Gregory well. He is some player to play with, he helps me massively.
“Obviously [Ryan] Leonard and Tunni [Ryan Tunnicliffe] are brilliant to have behind you. You have got that security with them two, I can go and do my stuff and do my best for the team.”
Thompson feels the drop heat is bringing the best out of the South Londoners.
It looks like there is only one more relegation spot to fill with the Lions, Rotherham, Reading, Wigan, QPR and Birmingham still in danger.
QPR’s fears will grow if Millwall can beat them tomorrow evening.
“They [Rangers] lost on Saturday to Norwich – there is no reason we can’t go and beat them on Wednesday and drag them right into it,” said Thompson.
“They are a team that are definitely beatable.
“Look at the West Brom game – we were the underdogs. No-one thought we were going to win. We proved everyone wrong, that’s what Millwall do.
“We have got to do that again on Wednesday.
“When every Millwall team has been under pressure – on the back-foot or the underdogs – that is when a Millwall team shines and plays really well.
“In a way it could be working for us well that Rotherham won as well. We are still under pressure, but we will still be grinding it out every game and giving it our all.
“The boys know what is at stake and the importance of staying up is massive.
“I think the boys feel it a bit, but you can’t show it on the pitch.