Alex Pearce is hoping that his Millwall loan move will give him a better crack at regular football – and his debut on Sunday instantly massively multiplied his game time this season.
The experienced centre-back’s only action for Derby County had been as an 89th-minute substitute on the Championship opening day at his former club Reading.
So playing the full match for the Lions in their FA Cup win over Hull City was pretty much a dream outcome.
Pearce, who turned 30 in November, had played just 58 times for the Rams since signing in July 2015.
Contrast that with 240 matches for boyhood club Reading – where he won the Championship in 2012 and was also voted their Player of the Season in the same year.
“I played a lot of games at Reading and then had a different kind of challenge at Derby,” said Pearce. “It was a fresh start for me, I needed that.
“It was a good experience for me. I didn’t play as many games as I’d have liked to have played, but that brings its own challenges. I learned a lot.
“I worked with some great people and a lot of managers. There are some great people at the club. I wish them all the best for the season.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to get in a team. You’ve got a lot of good players. When I got in the team I felt I did well but for whatever reason I didn’t play as many matches as I wanted. That is why I made the move here – hopefully I can play more.
“I loved it on Sunday. You speak to any player and all of them will say they just want to play. It felt fantastic – playing for this club, for your team-mates and for yourself as well.
“The more games you play then the better you feel, it gets you in a nice groove.
“I thought we played really well and dominated the game from near-enough start to finish, barring a period of the second half early on.
“We could have scored two or three goals in the first half and hit the bar in the second half – we should have been comfortable. Instead we had to do it the hard way.
“I’m not happy with the goal we conceded as a team, but these things happen. It was about recovering and showing a bit of character. We did that.”
It is the second successive January window that Millwall have raided the Rams for an experienced defender. But Pearce did not seek out Jason Shackell for the lowdown on the South London club.
“I knew a couple of the lads from my Reading days,” he explained. “I spoke to Jem [Karacan] and Coops [Jake Cooper]. I got a really good feel from them and when I had a chat with the manager.
“I knew what the craic was with the club, what I needed to do and I also knew what I could bring.
“I’ll add some experience and know-how at this level. You don’t want to talk about yourself too much though – it’s about the team.”
Pearce’s formative years were spent in Berkshire with Reading. Brendan Rodgers made him Reading vice-captain in the 2009-10 season.
“Essentially I was captain because Ivar Ingimarsson was injured,” he said.
“I was only a young lad, 20 at the time. For him to show that faith, at a big club like Reading, was a great thing for me.
“I had some great years at Reading under Brian McDermott. We won the league – Jem played a big part in that team – and we reached the FA Cup semi-final and probably should’ve got to the final.
“When we were young lads at Reading we had some brilliant leaders. The captain of that famous 106-point team was Graeme Murty – I looked up to him.
“Then it is players in your position like Ingimarsson and Ibrahima Sonko – he was an animal at times. I used to watch them and think ‘oh God, I need to try and get in this team and do what they do’.
“You bring your own strengths and characteristics to any team you play in. You have to be your own person and put your own stamp on things.”
Pearce is out of contract at the end of June.
“I’ve been in this sort of situation before and I’m relaxed about it,” he said. “It’s why I wanted to come here and try to take the club forward.
“I’m hungry for success and I’m ambitious to do well. I want to be at a club which is moving forward, which I believe this place is. I want to be playing at the highest level possible. If I can do that here it will be great.
“The manager was excellent. I liked him straight away. He was very positive, very enthusiastic about the club and made me feel like I could play a part. That’s all I wanted to hear.”