By Richard Cawley
Shaun Williams recently triggered a contract extension at Millwall – and has made it clear he would happily commit for an even longer period.
The 31-year-old midfielder had an option in his deal that saw his stay extended by a further 12 months if he made 15 appearances this season for the Lions.
That clause would have been activated sooner if Williams had not been sidelined for just over two months with a knee injury. The former Milton Keynes man returned to action as a late substitute at Aston Villa in early December.
Williams has featured 28 times for the South London club in all competitions and is on 183 appearances in total. He is contracted until the summer of 2019.
“It’s great to be here for another year – fantastic,” he said. “I’d love to stay here even longer, but that is down to the club and what way they want to go about it.
“It is the longest I have played for any club and I feel really at home. I love every minute of it. I’ve got great friendships with a lot of people too.
“It’s really pleasing to know we are more or less going to be staying in this division next season and that I’ll be a part of it.”
But retaining Championship status is no longer a threat, instead the Lions’ sparkling form in February nudging them to within six points of the play-off zone.
Williams was signed by Ian Holloway when the SE16 outfit were last at this level and has seen at first-hand the rebuilding job done by Neil Harris following relegation to League One.
“Going down was a big disappointment but since the gaffer has come in he has given Millwall their team back,” said the Dubliner.
“We have had some great days out – in the FA Cup and at Wembley – and I’ve been buzzing to be involved in that.
“He [Harris] has had a fantastic career as a manager so far, I’m quite surprised he hasn’t been put up for other jobs.
“You can see by the recruitment every year that he is bringing new players in and adding to the group, bringing us forward. I don’t see why he can’t maybe make us challenge on a regular basis for the play-offs.”
Millwall have been part of that end-of-season shootout for the past two campaigns. It might have taken a last-gasp header from Shaun Hutchinson to seal their place in last season’s play-offs as they won 4-3 at Bristol Rovers on the final day of the regular programme, but they executed their game plan with precision over two legs against Scunthorpe as well as that Wembley showdown with Bradford City in May.
“I said to someone the other day that if we do make the play-offs that we’d be really confident going into it,” explained Williams. “We’ve been in there the last two years and had a defeat and a win [in the final].
“There is a long way to go but if we did do it then it is in our hands. You have got to have a bit of luck too.
“We just have to go about our business in the way we have been doing. If we keep winning games and picking up points then I can’t see any reason we can’t sneak in there in the last couple of games. It’s definitely promising that we are looking up instead of down.
“We have been in every game this season, probably bar Derby away. We’ve had a chance of winning every other match.”
Lee Gregory – along with Williams probably the most successful signing made by Holloway during his spell at the helm – recently described Millwall’s players as feeling “unbeatable”.
Williams responds: “For now, yeah. Until maybe we do lose a game and people come back to reality a little bit. But while things are going good it is nice to feel confident about every game.”
The Irishman is battling Ryan Tunnicliffe for a starting spot alongside George Saville. He had started the first 10 Championship games before his injury but in recent months has usually been the preferred partner for the ex-Wolves man, getting the nod for seven of the last nine league fixtures.
He credits the Millwall medical team for his early return to the fray.
“It was gutting news at the start because I thought I just had a little knock and it would be a week or two out injured,” said Williams. “It was difficult to take at the start. But I put my mind to it and did absolutely everything and more to make it as quick as possible.
“Paul [Tanner, physio] and Bloomy [Laurence Bloom, head sports science] deserve a lot of credit for getting me back so soon.
“The way the gaffer sets us out is for me to protect and George to push on. It just works. We got an understanding from pre-season and hit the ground running.
“Luckily now I am back to full fitness and feel as good as I was.”