BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Matt Smith reckons Millwall are “lucky” to have Gary Rowett as their manager.
The Lions’ form has spiked since the former Stoke, Derby, Birmingham and Burton chief succeeded Neil Harris at The Den.
And Millwall moved into the Championship top six with a 3-1 win over Luton Town on New Year’s Day – until Swansea’s 1-0 victory against Charlton bumped them down a place to seventh.
Rowett acted decisively after a below-par opening 45 minutes from the Lions – taking centre-back Alex Pearce off and bringing on Tom Bradshaw as he shifted from 5-2-3-1 to 4-2-3-1 just before the interval.
Bradshaw, Smith and Connor Mahoney got second-half goals for Millwall.
Asked if Rowett raised his voice in the dressing room when the Lions trailed 1-0 to the Hatters, Smith said: “No…but when he speaks you listen.
“Ultimately the messages he delivers are spot on. The messages we have taken on have got us loads of points on board and taken us in the right direction.
“The way he’s conducted the team and his handling of the lads has been nothing but spot on – and that’s coming from a player who hasn’t played all too regularly.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for him. From what I’ve seen I think he’s a really top-end manager. We’re lucky to have him. I think he’s brilliant.
Asked about the withdrawal of club captain Pearce, Smith admitted he had been in the same situation himself.
“I’ve been taken off in the first half, subbed on and subbed off in the same game. I know how humiliating ultimately it is. But Pearcey is a strong lad. He won’t take it personally – he’ll know it was for the team’s benefit. It could’ve been any of us, we were that poor in the first half. Any of us could’ve been dragged off.
“Pearcey will know it was purely tactical. He’s been around the block before to know it’s not to do with his performance. He’s been an absolute rock at the back for us.
“It was a sacrifice which ultimately swung the game. In the second half I thought we were brilliant. We showed a lot of intent going forward, had a lot more quality in the final third and quality going in the box.”
“I felt a bit isolated up there [before the change]. They matched our system which we didn’t really expect them to do.”