BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Ben Thompson reckons he is producing the best performances of his Millwall career.
And the Lions midfield dynamo – who bagged both goals in their 2-0 win at Birmingham City before the international break – is confident his boyhood club can cap his memorable season off by clinching Championship survival.
Thompson shone on loan for Portsmouth in the first half of the campaign. And since Lions boss Neil Harris recalled him in early January he has been right at the fore of many of the positives for the SE16 outfit.
Thompson managed a first ever brace at senior level as Millwall eased some of the drop pressure with a big result at St Andrew’s. Next comes the test of Leeds United tomorrow.
“So far this has been my most successful season,” said the 22-year-old. “If it finishes off with us staying up then it will definitely be the biggest season of my career.
“Going up from League One with Millwall was a massive achievement, and I played a lot of games in that year. But form-wise, I think I’m playing my best football. I’m just enjoying every minute.
“I had a successful spell at Portsmouth. I had a great time under Kenny Jackett and Joe Gallen. And what a football club it is to play for, with great coaches. It gave me confidence to come back to Millwall and play with freedom, and to know I can handle it at this level and do well. A lot of credit has to go to Kenny and Joe – I can’t thank them enough.”
Millwall will need Thompson at his tenacious best at Elland Road this weekend. The South Londoners are set to spend plenty of time out of possession – Leeds have the third highest possession in the division.
He was an unused substitute when the Lions produced an exhilarating 4-3 victory in Yorkshire last season.
“It was unbelievable,” said Thompson. “I’ve spoken to senior pros and TC [Tony Craig] said that Elland Road is the best matches he has ever had away from The Den.
“Playing in that atmosphere is an experience. Plus we don’t like Leeds. We’ve got to go there confident and excited. We’re the underdogs – massively. They are expected to win. But that’s when we’re at our best. That’s when Millwall grind results out.”
Thompson is not an avid watcher of football in his free time. He plays and watches snooker – his biggest break is 30.
“I’ve played against Shane Ferguson and dealt with him,” he said. “He seems to think if you do a foul in snooker then you just knock those points off and don’t worry about it. He’s a little bit of a cheat, I’ve definitely beaten him twice.
“I try to watch some football, I watched England the other night, but normally I’ll just flick it on for a bit – I can’t just sit watching a whole game every night, it’s not for me.
“I’m playing football every day and thinking about it every day – you can’t live every moment worrying about it. Football is a massive part of my life but you can’t let it take over.
“I’ve seen Leeds play this season. They are a great side, it’s why they are up there. We’ve got to make sure we’re at it. If we’re not at it then we will not get a result. Everyone has got to play their best game and make sure we dominate them.”
That vital three-point away day at Birmingham was followed by FA Cup penalty shootout defeat to Brighton – but not before the Premier League side were trailing
2-0 and seemingly adding to Millwall’s collection of Premier League scalps.
Thompson, cup-tied after featuring for Pompey, does not feel the end of Millwall’s Wembley dreams for 2019 should have a detrimental effect.
“Everyone is still buzzing off the Birmingham game – Brighton was a bit of a free hit,” he said. “The boys played excellently, there is no reason they should feel down about it. Spirits are high for a big one on Saturday.
“I don’t think Leeds is a free hit, at all. Every game is massive to us. Any point we can get is crucial to our survival. We can easily go there and get a result, if not a win. Look at when we last played there – it was a dramatic game and we came out on top.”
Thompson was in the stands cheering Millwall on against Brighton. And even being back on the pitch this weekend won’t necessarily stop him from joining in with any chants.
“When I am sitting watching then I can’t help myself,” he said. “But sometimes I do it on the pitch. It just comes naturally and I find myself singing along in my head.
“I want to play every game – when you’re playing well and have that momentum you don’t want to miss a game and feel a bit rusty for the next one.”
Thompson will be aiming to arrive right on cue in the Leeds box and make sure Millwall aren’t requiring snookers in the run-in.