By Richard Cawley
Shaun Hutchinson is targeting a minimum of four points from Millwall’s next two matches – and reckons they should not be dampening down Championship play-off hopes.
The Lions are seventh in the table after a fine run of form under Gary Rowett – losing just one of their last 12 matches in all competitions – and head to Stoke City tomorrow.
Next up after that is a home game against Reading.
Hutchinson said: “I had a little look the other day at the fixture list coming up and you’re kind of thinking if we want to have ambitions we need to take four points. Four or six would be a good return.
“You don’t want to get carried away, because I’ve seen teams who are top six at this stage of the season and they’ve finished in the bottom half.
“We’ve been pushing to keep getting results and now we’re in amongst it I don’t see why we can’t stay amongst it or even kick on for the rest of the season. I don’t see why we shouldn’t have targets and ambition for that.
“If we didn’t feel like that then we’d have no ambition. We might as well give up now because we’re probably safe now – so put the tools away. We wouldn’t do that.
“A lot of the players had a taste for that a couple of seasons ago and came up short. We’re better suited with that experience.
“We’ve kicked on earlier than we did that year. Traditionally since I’ve been at the club we have generally had a decent Christmas and pushed on afterwards.
“I’m not sure why that it, but we have. If we kick on like we have done for the rest of the season then we’ll definitely be in there.”
The Lions travel tomorrow to Stoke, who have picked up results and are now on a run of just two defeats in their last six league matches.
Hutchinson said: “Stoke have picked up a little bit and had a few decent results but in this league you look at who you’re playing and think the same. We’ve got amazing results against the top six and not amazing results against the bottom six. Why is that? Because the league is so competitive. Anyone can beat anyone on their day.
“It’s not really any harder or easier than any other fixture. They are all the same.
“Every team has got good players who can hurt you on the day. It’s who can perform best in the most games. At the start of the season they weren’t really performing that well.
“It’s a game where we’ll go looking to win. We haven’t really be going to draw games, nothing like that, keep ourselves up there and give ourselves as much of a chance as we can.”
Lee Gregory has been linked with a move away from Stoke, but has struggled for goals there.
Hutchinson said: “What Millwall did do for him is play to his strengths. The way we played helped him to excel as a player.
“He got his move, I don’t think it’s so much on him that they’ve been struggling. I think it’s more that the whole team has just been struggling a bit.
“I’m sure if they were playing better as a team he’d be firing on all cylinders and doing great.
“You know what he is and what he does. He’s a handful on his day. It’s different than when you’re opposed to another striker because you know exactly his strengths and weaknesses from when you trained and played with him.”
Tom Bradshaw is the next era for Millwall, after Gregory’s departure. Hutchinson said: “I’m not sure it was a like for like. I think they are different types of players.
“I suppose Bradshaw can come short to feet on the half turn, whereas Gregory stretched the game more.
“Bradders is a bit of a fox in the box when it comes to getting the goals whereas Greggy would be more of a rough and tumble guy – working the space for himself and getting a shot off.
“Both are just as much as a handful as each other.”
The Lions sit seventh in the table, having slitpped out of the play-off places as a result of Swansea’s win over Charlton last week.
“You don’t want to get carried away because Ihave seen teams be in the top six at Christmas but finish in the bottom half,” said the 29-year-old. ‘”You never know. It is all down to form.
“But I don’t see why we should not have ambition for that. A lot of the players had a taste for it and came up short. We will be pushing for results. I don’t see why we can’t have targets for that and try to kick on, now we are in amongst it. If we did not think like that we would have no ambition and might as well give up now. Because we are probably safe now.”
Millwall drew Sheffield United in the FA Cup draw on Monday.
Hutchinson said: “Progression in the league is doing no harm at all because if you’re winning games then confidence is one of the biggest things. It’s another game won so the record since Rowett came in is looking even better.
“the boys who haven’t played have played. They did well and their confidence is high, meaning they are pushing other players.
“As long as you don’t pick up two or three injuries in a game I welcome it.
“It was always going to be a tough game. I don’t think it was top of the list for the fixtures we wanted but it’s a chance to get in the next round of the FA Cup. You never know who you will get after that.”