BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Ryan Tunnicliffe has described the next six months as “massive” as he aims to land himself a new Millwall contract.
The 26-year-old, who started his career at Manchester United, is due to be a free agent in June.
But Tunnicliffe has enjoyed an extended run in the Lions side – stepping in when Shaun Williams was ruled out after damaging ankle ligaments in early November.
The midfield complexion has taken a shift though ahead of tomorrow’s late kick-off against Blackburn Rovers with Williams returning in last Sunday’s FA Cup win over Hull City. And Ben Thompson, who had been flying on loan at Portsmouth, has been recalled.
Tunnicliffe has started the last eight Championship matches.
“I’m getting a run in the team but I can’t get complacent,” he said. “Now Willo and Thommo are back the competition for places is going to get tougher to keep my spot in the team.
“Obviously we won the last three games and I’ve played in them all. It’s on me to play as well as I possibly can and keep the shirt, because obviously at the start of the season I wasn’t in the team and wanted to get in.
“It was their job to keep me out, which they did. I’ve just got to keep trying to perform.”
Footballers always talk about needing competition for places, but do they really feel that deep down? Tunnicliffe, who has played 42 times since signing for the Lions just before the start of the 2017-18 campaign, said: “Probably not, no!
“If you know you are going to play week in and week out then performances can dip, because there’s no pressure. You want to play every game but that does keep you on your toes.
“If someone else comes in then you might not play for a while.”
Tunnicliffe was largely forced to play back-up to the Williams-George Saville midfield axis in the last campaign. And the former has tended to start with club record signing Ryan Leonard until he was ruled out for a significant period.
How much Tunnicliffe can disrupt that and play is likely to be a big factor in whether his long-term future lies in South London beyond May.
“The next six months are going to be massive,” he said. “Hopefully the gaffer sees fit to offer me a new deal.
“I’m up in the summer, so I’m sort of playing for my job really.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it here. It’s a great club to be part of.”
Millwall’s start to 2019 – and their end to the previous year – has been excellent.
Four wins in a row – banking nine points and securing FA Cup passage to the fourth round – has improved spirits.
“We did really well to get nine points over that Christmas period because it is tough on the legs,” said Tunnicliffe. “You are playing every couple of days.
“The points we picked up is a massive step in the right direction. Once we get to 50 points then you can play nice and easy from there – see where it takes you.
“We got there early last season and had that momentum behind us. To end up on 72 points was unbelievable.”
Tunnicliffe watched Monday night’s FA Cup draw – Everton heading to SE16 at the end of this month.
“It’s not a bad one for us,” he said. “But in terms of my dream opponent I think the gaffer touched on it the other day – West Ham would’ve been great.
“To play in one of those games would tick something off in your career because it is such a fierce rivalry.
“It is a competition which Everton will probably want to do well in because it is a way into Europe and also a cup they stand a chance of winning.
“It’s a bit of a free-hit for us, if you can look at it that way.
“But it’s also one we are confident about because The Den is not an easy place to come – especially when there is a big crowd there.
“It’s the FA Cup and history shows that anything can happen in it.”