BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Ben Thompson has his sights set on hitting double figures in the goal charts for Millwall next season.
The Lions confirmed on Monday afternoon that their 23-year-old midfielder had put pen to paper on a new long-term contract.
Thompson put in some storming displays on returning from a loan spell at Portsmouth in the first half of the 2018-19 campaign – scoring four times in 13 Championship outings before a bad hamstring tear prematurely ruled him out of the run in.
And his desired scoring haul could be more easily reached if he continues to play in a roving number 10 role for the Lions.
“To be fair my target last season was 10 goals and it will be the same again,” said Thompson, who came through the youth ranks at his boyhood club.
“If a midfielder gets 10 goals then they are really doing well.
“Last season with Portsmouth and Millwall I got seven all together. I didn’t quite hit what I wanted.
“Attacking-wise it is about getting in the right position and making sure I am linking with the attack in the right way.
“I’ve had advice from experienced people like the manager and Moro [Steve Morison] and that is paying off.
“You have got to score goals at a level to prove to yourself you can do it at that level. The fact I scored my first goal [in the Championship] when I came on as a sub against Preston was a real benefit for me in terms of confidence levels. It set me off to score more goals.”
Thompson has gone from watching Millwall in the stands to now being a player who there will be a weight of expectation on.
As the Lions were battling grimly against the drop last season, he was one of the real bright spots.
Manager Neil Harris admits that Thompson’s prospects were not always so positive.
“He came from nowhere,” said the Lions chief. “There was a time at the club when it wasn’t a foregone conclusion he was going to get a scholarship with us at 16.
“After his first year he had not really developed quickly. Ben was quite a late developer physically.
“This contract is richly deserved. He played really well as a number 10 last season for us and is also learning the game as a number eight.
“He is the sort of character I want at the club next season.”
Thompson’s blockbusting displays in the closing months for the Lions made you wonder if he would become a transfer target.
Harris said: “What makes people sit up and take notice of midfielders is goals.
“With George Saville, no-one envisaged we would buy him for £350,000 and sell him for £8million 12 months later.
“It was because George’s style of play suited us, we suited him and he scored goals.
“George had Shaun Williams and Ben has Shaun and Ryan Leonard, who are happy to do the donkey work and unnoticed roles behind which enables him to run forward, be creative and score goals.
“Ben, playing in an attacking position for us, will get opportunities to score. Naturally that is going to catch the eye.
“Has there been interest for our players? No. And that’s the way I want to keep it.”
Thompson’s new deal gives security to him – but also to the South London outfit.
“It’s my home club and the club I support,” said Thompson.
“The only thing I wanted to do was play for the club and give it my all.
“This new deal is massive for me. I wanted to play in the Championship for Millwall Football Club. So to be able to get that over the line and be here for the next three years is a brilliant achievement.
“During the season we had one focus – and that was to stay in the Championship. I wasn’t thinking about my contract, I still had one year left on the other one.
“I signed the contract a week ago but I’ve been on holiday and the manager has been on holiday, so it has only just been announced.
“I feel like I came back [from Portsmouth] and was a better player than when I was first at Millwall last season. I feel I’ve improved massively, come back and made an impact.”
Thompson is relishing the resumption of the South London derby – with Charlton winning promotion via the League One play-offs in May.
“It is always a great game and I love to play in those sort of matches,” said Thompson. “It will be a feisty encounter. Those games and the Leeds one will be the first that I look out for.”
Millwall have finished eighth and then 21st in their two seasons in the Championship. So what should be the target in 2019-20?
“Staying in the division is the main goal,” said Thompson. “With a club like Millwall – the budget we have and the players we have – we’re not going to be competing for automatic promotion.
“The first year in the Championship we nearly got in the play-offs but that is a one-off. Everyone got a bit too over-excited about it and expected more last season.
“The aim has to be for us to stay in the Championship and slowly progress as a club and build up from there.”