Conor McLaughlin on final day drop-fight experiences and his future at Millwall

BY RICHARD CAWLEY

Conor McLaughlin has been involved in final day drop drama before – and doesn’t intend on sampling it again.

The 27-year-old was part of the Fleetwood Town side which won 2-0 at Crewe in May 2016 to make sure of their League One status.

And now his current club Millwall could need to go to Wigan – also in the survival fight – on the last round of fixtures needing a result to ensure they do not slip out of the Championship.

“We stayed up on the last day of the season against Crewe,” said McLaughlin.

“It’s a horrible scenario to be in. It’s a nervy game. I don’t think we want to leave it that late. Everyone knew how high the stakes were.

“We want to make sure we’ve done the business by then.”

“When I was at Preston I had broken my leg but we were relegated from the Championship – it’s one of the worst feelings you’ll get in football. I’m sure I won’t be the only one who has had experience of that.”

McLaughlin started Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Sheffield United – his first action since the end of November. Shaun Hutchinson’s absence with an illness allowed the Northern Ireland international to play in a back three at Bramall Lane.

Sheffield United’s Billy Sharp battles with Millwall’s Conor McLaughlin

“Before Christmas I tore my quad in training,” said McLaughlin, who has predominantly been used at right-back during his time in SE16.

“Initially I was thinking I’d be out for three weeks but it just kept re-occurring the day before I was due to be back training.

“It happened two or three times.

“With the quad it is a delicate muscle to recover from injuring. It’s happened before to some players I’ve played with, that was the reassuring thing. It wasn’t like it was out of the norm.”

McLaughlin’s only action in 2019 had come as a late substitute in his country’s 2-0 European Championships win over Estonia at Windsor Park.

“I sort of knew I’d be starting the Sheffield United game the day before [when the Lions did shape work],” said the defender. “I knew for definite on the day [of the game].

“The gaffer was a bit worried about the amount of minutes I’d had and being out injured for a long time – to then come into a game like that, with them doing so well and playing so well.

“But I’ve played that position before at Fleetwood and Northern Ireland, so I was confident.

“We worked on a few things because their shape is a bit unique in this league. We had to make sure we were ready for it.

“I thought I did decent. It was a different sort of game – where they had most of the ball in the first half. It was more about maintaining our shape and not losing any goals.

“In the second half when we conceded it’s different – we need to come out and attack. That means a change of shape and I understood why I came off.

“It’s all about the team. We need to make sure we stay in the league and any little bit of help a player can give at this stage is really important.

“We need to take maximum points from our home games. Then the away games should take care of themselves. Villa are flying at the moment but so were Sheffield United as well. We still believe when we’re playing well we’re a match for anyone in the league and can nick points.”

McLaughlin is one of those players in the Millwall squad with an uncertain long-term future.

He is due to be out of contract at the end of June and has gone from a regular at Fleetwood – playing more than 200 matches – to being back-up to Mahlon Romeo.

McLaughlin has featured 10 times for the Lions in the current campaign – three of those in the EFL Cup.

“I was used to playing every game at Fleetwood,” he said. “It’s a change this past year-and-a-half where unfortunately I haven’t played as many minutes as I’ve wanted to.

“I’ve had to get my head around that. There’s no point thinking about contracts because the main objective is to stay up. Whatever happens after that happens.

“You’ll see it a lot now in football that some teams won’t decide on contracts until after the season has finished, when they know what league they are in. After that we can sort things out.

“It’s been frustrating not getting the amount of minutes I’ve wanted. But as a place and as a club – the lads in the changing room – it’s been an unbelievable time getting to know them.

“I’ve enjoyed being around the place – great staff and great people.”

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