BY JAKE SANDERS
Matt Smith expressed his delight at making his Millwall debut – admitting that it felt like there were double the amount of Lions fans inside The Den against Preston North End.
The 30-year-old played, who joined from London rivals QPR last month, played 78 minutes on Saturday as his new side made the perfect start to their Championship campaign by beating the Lancashire-based outfit 1-0 on the opening-day in front of just under 15,000 at The Den.
Smith, who lost on three of his four trips to Millwall as a visiting player for Leeds and Fulham – failing to score in any of those appearances – was happy to have the home fans on his side.
“Having been on the receiving end quite a few times, the noise was incredible and for a 20,000-seater stadium, it felt like 40,000,” he said. “They are a real passionate bunch and they just want to see positive football and I think we showed that today and hopefully we can generate that noise week in week out. That noise generates energy, any player will tell you it lifts you and spurs you on. That last ten minutes, stoppage-time especially, it lifts you and gives you that extra one percent and ultimately the game is about one percents.
“It was really pleasing, it was a good victory for the boys. I thought to a man we were fantastic and the lads that came off the bench really made an impact as well and really showed that mental spirit and determination that you need to in this league because it’s a really difficult division. It will give the lads that good bit of belief and confidence that you need to kick-start the campaign.
“I really enjoyed it, I thought I had the better of my man, which you have your personal battles over the pitch, when you feel like you have the better of your man and you win your battle, it’s pleasing, but ultimately for me personally it’s about providing a platform for the team to play off. There is going to be tough spells, but we certainly rode the storm at times, but that’s the nature of the beast, that’s the Championship. It’s a relentless division, it’s physical. I thought we were fantastic and for an opening game, new group, there were plenty of positives.”
The Lions tasted victory just once in their first 11 league games last term and sat inside the relegation-zone during the early months of the season, but secured their first opening-day win since returning to the second tier in 2017. And Smith knows the importance of getting off to a good start.
“It settles any nerves that there are,” the striker said. “First day season nerves are normal, that is part of being human. It settles them and provides a benchmark of what we are capable of. Before the game we talked about the non-negotiable’s of things that you have to do, that aren’t up for debate, that you have to turn in on a game day and we delivered them.”
Smith said there is an ‘air of positivity’ around the place despite the doom and gloom of last season after Millwall narrowly avoided relegation in 2018/2019.
He said: “It has been an easy integration for me. Probably the easiest I have experienced, I am not sure if that’s because I am a bit older, wiser and I have been in the game, this is my seventh season in the Championship. I am not sure if it’s that, the lads were very welcoming. There has been a real air of positivity, I’m not sure if that’s because there has been an overhaul. But the vibe I am getting from within the camp is that the team spirit and the commendatory is another level to what is was before.
“So I think the manager has recruited the right characters. I can openly say it’s a fantastic dressing room to be in, it’s a one small, it’s lean one, so we are all going to have to stay fit for sure, but what he done is recruited the right kind of people – and real leaders.”
PICTURE BY BRIAN TONKS