BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Steve Morison is ready to be public enemy number one at Elland Road tomorrow – but don’t try telling him that it will be an intimidating experience.
Millwall’s club captain, 35, is likely to be on the bench for tomorrow’s Championship clash against Leeds United.
But that won’t stop him being the target for abuse. Morison had three years on the books of Leeds but needed a return to SE16 to rediscover his best form.
The straight-talking striker has told this paper before about going into “Zlatan Ibrahimovic-mode” when he faces his old employers.
Leeds had a crowd of over 37,000 for their last match before the international break – a 1-0 loss to Sheffield United.
But that big-game feel only brings out the best in Morison.
“I’ve never been intimidated by a crowd,” he said. “I know things have happened recently, with supporters coming on the pitch, but I’ve always looked at it that it is just a crowd and we are the players.
“Everyone gets big and brave behind the advertising boards. They give you some stick and never like it when they get some stick back.
“I’ve always taken it as just a bit of fun. You get personal attacks on social media. But, speaking personally, that is more not nice for friends and family to see – because they take it a bit more personally.
“I just look at it like this – would you really say that to me? Not that I’m going to do anything about it, but would you come up to my face and say those things about me, my family or my friends? I don’t think you would.
“Anyone can write something on a computer – it’s a cop-out.
“Where people have gone on the pitch at the AFC Fylde game and the Birmingham one, maybe people don’t feel they are getting to players enough on social media and want to get at them personally.
“But I think atmospheres are brilliant. It’s going to be banged out on Saturday. For a lot of our boys they won’t have played in an atmosphere like it.
“But this is what you play football for. It’s what my little lad asks me – how many people are coming to watch his game – because he wants people there.
“Leeds, in the Championship, is probably the best one there is because of the amount of people who turn up.
“For us, for some reason, these are the kind of games that work best for us – games where we go there with not much expectation on us.
“It’s a game that could be big for both teams. If we win and Sheffield United win then Leeds are even further behind.”
Millwall go into this weekend’s contest off the back of an FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Brighton.
The Lions were leading 2-0 heading into the closing stages of normal time. But a howler from David Martin right at the death saw Solly March equalise and take the tie into extra time.
Brighton squeaked home on penalties. As Albion’s players celebrated, Morison was straight over to Jake Cooper – who missed the last penalty – before also pulling the devastated Martin to his feet.
“My initial reaction when Coops missed was disappointment,” said the Lions skipper. “But then I thought a second later that no-one is going to feel worse than Dave right now.
“Coops is Coops. If I’d missed the last penalty and we had gone out it would have been more catastrophic than Coops [a centre-back] missing it.
“I spend a lot of time with Dave here. We speak a lot. He is more around my age and we have different conversations. The worst thing was that he was so good in the game. Even after his mistake he was unbelievable in extra time.
“I said to him: ‘Come on, it’s done now’. That’s my mentality – you can’t change it. There is no point dwelling on it. Sometimes it is easier to say, harder to do.
“I just wanted him to get up. It was difficult, right in front of their fans. The one thing was that the Millwall fans stayed and clapped the boys off the pitch. Everyone could see it was an unbelievable performance – one mistake doesn’t define someone.”
Millwall missed out on the test of Manchester City at Wembley.
But Morison said: “We have got bigger fish to fry than the FA Cup. I don’t know what anyone else feels, but I’d rather stay in this league than win the cup. To be playing in Europe but League One at the same time would be hell.
“I’ve never been relegated and I don’t want to know what that feels like.
“Manchester City at Wembley would be great for the punters, but imagine if the same had happened as when we played Spurs [losing 6-0 in the FA Cup quarter-finals in 2017] – or worse? Then you have got to try and pick yourself up.
“It doesn’t matter who you are playing against when you lose like that, it’s hard to pick yourself back up. If we were on 50 points – chilling and safe – then we’d be much more disappointed than we are now.
“Everyone knows the bigger picture – Millwall staying in the Championship is far greater than any FA Cup run.”