BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Connor Mahoney’s arrival at Millwall last week has ramped up the battle for a wide role – but Jed Wallace reckons no player should moan about it being difficult to land a starting spot.
As things stand the Lions have numerous options for the wide roles.
The two-footed Mahoney can operate on either flank.
Then you have Wallace, Jiri Skalak, Shane Ferguson and Aiden O’Brien to add into the mix.
Even if Fred Onyedinma – not assigned a squad number – does get his sought-after move away then he is likely to be replaced.
Last season saw Millwall boss Neil Harris move away from his favoured 4-4-2 formation, certainly more so once Ben Thompson returned from Portsmouth and operated as a number 10.
And Wallace says that the Lions are set to be less predictable in terms of their shape and also style of play.
Competition? It comes with the territory.
“My opinion on that is roll your sleeves up and get on with it,” said Wallace. “You fight for your shirt.
“Football is a team game but ultimately you do it individually – for your families and your self-pride. I did it at Wolves, for example. They were signing people for big, big money and I still tried my hardest to get in the team. Ultimately if the opportunity is not there then you go out on loan and get on with it. You’re footballers, at the end of the day, and you want to be playing.
‘What happened with Fergie, Dave Martin and Thommo in the last six months has shown no player under this manager is ever going to be dead and buried. There is always going to be an opportunity to get back in the team.
“Last season we didn’t have the squad size and quality at times to mix it up as much as the manager would have liked to – including varying formations. This year we are going to have the players to play 4-3-3, 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 – with Thommo or myself in behind. We’re going to have lots of different options at this level.
“With teams like Charlton coming up is going to be hard this year.
“And the teams coming down, I find it hard to believe that Cardiff and Huddersfield, especially, won’t be in the top six and I imagine Fulham will be pushing for the top two. It’s going to be difficult.”
Millwall landed long-term target Matt Smith at the start of this month and the aerial prowess of the ex-Fulham and QPR forward means that Harris – the seventh longest-serving boss in the top four divisions – is going to need crosses to be at his best.
Set-pieces have been a rich source of goals in Chopper’s four-year tenure.
Wallace said: “Tactically we’ve been working on the fact that last season at times we had become a little bit one-dimensional.
“Ultimately that was down to circumstance. Pressure and individual form – all those things contributed to us not having an amazing season and just a solid one.
“We want to push on but we also want to use Smudge’s strengths.
“I’ve always said you can be as good as you want at football but you’ve seen it with someone like myself, Fred or Adama Traore – if you kick it 20 yards down the line and run past someone then there is nothing they can do.
“It’s the same with Smithy – if me, Fergie, Skally and Connor can service him with good deliveries in the box then he is unplayable at this level. It’s down to the wide players to deliver. I can improve areas of my game, certainly crossing. With someone like Smudge here hopefully I’ll be better at hitting the right areas for him. [Tom] Bradshaw is different to Gregs [Lee Gregory] – he’s very much a fox-in-the-box-type player.
“I’ve been walking around the training ground optimistic they can hit it off. Hopefully we add a couple more in that department to add competition.
“It [the transfer window] has been slow, but understandably so. A club like this need to recruit not only the right players but also the right personalities – especially when you factor in that we’ve lost massive personalities in Moro [Steve Morison], Greggers and Jordan [Archer]. Even lads like Kingy [Tom King] and Tunni [Ryan Tunnicliffe], who are big parts of the changing room.
“Smudge, as you saw in the game at Concord Rangers, is going to be an unbelievable signing for us.
“We’ve got Bradshaw coming back in. Them two striker-wise, from where we were at the end of last season when we were certainly struggling, we look stronger now.”
An eighth-place finish in 2017-18 led to interest from Middlesbrough in Wallace and George Saville – but only the latter left for a club-record £6m fee. Rangers also tried their best to unsettle Jake Cooper. Both he and Wallace ended up signing new contracts.
Millwall had set the bar very high with their first hit at Championship football. Last season was far more of a grind – the pressure only lifting temporarily in the FA Cup – before safety was secured with two matches to go.
Wallace said: “It was just relief, more than anything. I can’t think how deflated I would feel, no disrespect, if I was going to Wycombe and Accrington.
“The club are doing a great job of trying to bridge the gap – from the massive, massive clubs at this level to ones like ourselves, Charlton, Barnsley and Luton.
“The chairman is doing a great job of backing the manager. We have to do it slowly.
“We’re not going to be a club who throws £20million at it, that’s how things go very wrong, very quickly. It did for me at Portsmouth – when I wasn’t getting paid. Admittedly at the time I was only getting paid £300 a week – so my mum could lend me money!
“The lads individually last season showed a lot of balls to come through it. I know it was a horrible watch at times – I’m a football fan as well. But desperate times meant we had to play that way, dig in and be horrible. That’s what got us over the line.
“We’re looking to improve but I’ve never met anyone who would watch us play pretty football, lose
2-0 and be happy. So let’s not pretend they want that. Because if we win 15 games next season 1-0 – it’s winning football, especially at a club like Millwall.
“It’s difficult here because if we want to split the lines and play out from the back – like they did under [Ian] Holloway – they get crucified.
“So it’s a bit of a mix and match. It’s finding the right style. We definitely need to play better football than we did at times last season, but also we’ve got people who can score goals. We didn’t have as many people in the group that could do that last season.
“I definitely feel we need to add quality to the group and experience at this level. In Smiffy and Connor – two boys who have played well at this level before – they are going to improve us.”
An extra attraction this season is the resumption of a South London derby – with Charlton Athletic coming up. Wallace used to keep an eye on the Addicks when his pal Ricky Holmes was in his SE7 pomp.
“It will be hard for them,” said the Millwall wideman. “[Joe] Aribo has left – and you tell me he was one of their best players.
“Lyle Taylor will do well.
“They’ve got some good players – but everyone has. The difference now is for the boys coming up, you just don’t get as many chances at the level. You have to be clinical.
“How many games have you watched where we have done well and lost 1-0 when we could have won 4-1? It’s about being clinical -pace and power.”
PICTURES BY BRIAN TONKS