BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Ryan Leonard praised Millwall’s fans for raising their game on Saturday night against Blackburn Rovers – even if the players could not follow suit.
The Lions saw their four-game unbeaten run ended by late goals from Joe Nuttall and Adam Armstong.
Leonard had one of the few efforts on goal in a largely drab contest – David Raya beating away his first-time strike.
The Millwall club record signing said: “I don’t think anyone played poorly, but I don’t think anyone played well. We didn’t give the fans enough to shout about. They gave us a brilliant atmosphere which we didn’t pay back enough.
“We didn’t get the ball in the box enough and create at set-pieces.
“I don’t think there was too much in the game. It was a bit of a scrappy one.
“A point would have been a fair result for both teams. They created a little more quality in the final third than us and it got them the goal.
“I’m very disappointed with our own performance. We didn’t produce enough quality in the final third to try and get us over the line.
“The first goal is a little bit fortuitous at the end. The second we have gone all out and they have broken and scored. It’s disappointing to concede at any time, but to concede two goals that quickly together is frustrating.”
Millwall had Tom Elliott walk off with a dislocated left shoulder with less than two minutes on the clock.
Leonard said: “It’s not ideal. You pick the team, you go through tactics and how you’re going to play. To lose your number nine striker 30 seconds in to a freak injury is not ideal.
“We’ve got a striker [Steve Morison] that’s good enough to be playing week in, week out. There’s no excuses for us. It wasn’t quite good enough.
“They [Blackburn] made it really difficult for us. The gaffer said they had some good players. They pressed us so that we couldn’t get into our stride.
“Coming to The Den is never easy and they’ve come away with the points.”
Ben Thompson was back in the Lions’ matchday 18 as he took a place on the bench. Shaun Williams came on as a second half substitute for the second match in a row – the Republic of Ireland international now over ankle ligament damage.
The duo are both chasing a central midfield berth, the two slots filled by Leonard and Ryan Tunnicliffe.
“It’s nice to have competition,” said the former Southend United and Sheffield United man. “That’s what helps you progress and do better. You know if you don’t perform there are two players who are ready to come into the team and do really well.
“It’s healthy at any club. To have two midfielders who are good enough to get straight into this team is only good for the squad and the team.”
Fred Onyedinma was recalled from his loan at Wycombe but unlike Thompson – a huge hit during his stint away with Portsmouth – did not make the bench.
Tom King And Sid Nelson have also resumed training with the Lions first-team after spending the first half of the campaign on loan at AFC Wimbledon and Swindon.
“I’ve only just met them, but they all seem to be good lads,” said Leonard. “They’ve definitely given it a lift.
“They’ve done well in their loans and come back buzzing. Training has been really sharp. Obviously the result and performance wasn’t what we wanted on Saturday but they can only be positive to the squad.”
Next up for Millwall is a trip on Saturday to Middlesbrough. Britt Assombalonga scored eight minutes before full-time to earn a 2-1 win at Birmingham City.
It leaves Tony Pulis’ side four points behind second-placed Sheffield United.
Leonard said: “There’s no rest. Middlesbrough away – it doesn’t get any easier. We have to stick together on the training pitch, come in on Monday and give it a right go, put this behind us and learn from it – how we can do better.”