BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Steve Morison reckons Everton’s passing game may be hampered by the condition of The Den pitch.
The Millwall club captain was part of Neil Harris’ side which reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup in 2017. It was his 85th-minute volley – which squirted through the legs of Heurelho Gomes – that took out Watford in the fourth round of that exhilarating run.
And Morison, 35, admits the playing surface could be a factor against Everton, five-times winners of the famous competition.
“It is a common trend for people to play out from the back and have lots and lots of passes – they have got a lot of players who can hurt you if they are given time and space,” said Morison. “That was the thing when we had that FA Cup run a couple of years ago, the teams who wanted to play that type of football struggled a little bit at our ground.
“But our pitch ain’t the best at the minute. I think it’s just down to the climate. We’re not blessed with the same technology that some of the Premier League boys have.
“Our guys work extremely hard and do everything they can to get the pitch as good as they can.
“I don’t think the weather has helped this year, we haven’t had enough rain. It’s a bit patchy in places. It’s funny, when you see it on the TV it always looks a lot better than what it actually is.
“It’s like when you drive past Calmont Road [the Lions’ training ground] you look from the road and think ‘it’s really nice, that’. Don’t get me wrong – it’s definitely not a park – but it’s not as good as it was last year.”
Millwall did not concede a goal against top-flight opposition in their run to the last eight of the FA Cup. They had not trailed against a Premier League side until Christian Eriksen’s 31st-minute opener at White Hart Lane. Spurs went on to hit six past them.
Fulham took an early lead in the EFL Cup tie in September and the Lions spent plenty of their time chasing white-and-black shadows as they fell to a 3-1 defeat. It seems the first goal is even more vital when facing England’s elite clubs.
Morison said: “It’s a case of staying in the game, isn’t it? They want to get a couple of goals and relax. They want to quieten our crowd down and take the belief out of our players. All those things are factors.
“For us, if you get the goal it gives us something to hold onto. It gives us something to fight for and also that belief that we can score against these, we can beat these.
“When you’re in the league it’s different, because you are there on merit. You should be able to score against them and stop them scoring. You should be able to beat them. But with the Premier League team you are always looking for that little something to tip you over the edge.
“Hopefully we can play as well as the guys did last Saturday at Middlesbrough and if we do that – we’ll have the fans behind us because it will be banged out – it can be the makings of a good cup game.
“It’s a distraction from the league, for a week. Then, as the manager said after the Middlesbrough game, we have got our cup final the following weekend against Rotherham.
“The only other thing we could’ve been doing this weekend is having a weekend off. I’d much rather be playing football. Derby got through, so we would have been off this weekend. Contrary to what people believe and say about footballers, I honestly believe most want to be playing a match on a Saturday.”
Millwall are four points ahead of 21st-placed Rotherham.
“We want to get to 50 points as quickly as possible – that’s 21 more we need,” said Morison. “The next game is a huge opportunity to put more distance between us and the bottom.
“We did really well last year [to finish eighth]. We exceeded anyone’s expectations – we lived the dream for a bit.
“Until the Middlesbrough match we all started to believe – we weren’t saying we were getting promoted but we had a chance to get in the play-offs. It was just like a train. We were rolling into every station and leaving it – just unbelievable.
“This is realism now. I’ve never seen other club’s budgets but it’s probably looking pretty similar to what the table is now – barring maybe Leeds, Norwich and Sheffield United being right at the top.
“We’re slightly ahead of where our budget is.”