BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Gary Rowett reckons the major reason his Millwall side missed out on the Championship play-offs was a lack of goals.
The Lions finished the campaign with a 4-1 thumping of Huddersfield Town last Wednesday.
But even that late flurry only took them up to 57 goals – only six clubs in the division netted fewer and all of them were at the wrong end of the table.
“Sometimes you get a chance to sit back and reflect,” said Rowett, who took charge in October after Neil Harris resigned.
“One of the reflections I have to make is that if the season started when we came in then we’d be in the top six.
“So the simple fact is that I asked the players to push for those positions and look up – they’ve performed to a top-six level.
“That’s incredibly encouraging, we’ve had to make a lot of ground up and maybe that fact has been as much of a reason why we’ve fallen short.
“Usually if you want to get in the play-offs you’ve got to score between 65 and 70 goals. You can quite clearly see where we’re short – we’re short of goals in the team.
“It’s not just the forwards, because the whole team has to contribute.
“But our wing-backs haven’t scored. Our centre-backs haven’t scored as many as we’d like them to – Hutchy [Shaun Hutchinson] has, but maybe Coops [Jake Cooper] and Pearcey [Alex Pearce] haven’t. How many goals have we had from a central midfielder? We’ve had two in the last few games, [Jayson] Molumby and [Ryan] Leonard, but not had many before that apart from Willo [Shaun Williams].
“The left-side of our forward line hasn’t scored enough. There are really easy areas to see where we needed to do better to contribute to the goals tally. The challenge is to add that to the group and squad next season.
“It’s not just a numbers game, I know it’s a far more complex equation when it comes to building a squad. But it’s quite clear we haven’t scored enough goals. You can’t win 1-0 every week. That’s something we have to be better at – taking games away from teams when we go 1-0 up. What we’ve had to do is work incredibly hard to win some of those games and you can’t do that all the time.”
Millwall were 17th when Rowett took charge and finished the 2019-20 campaign in eighth place – just two points behind Swansea City.
Rowett was impressed at the mentality of the group he inherited.
“You’re looking at the team and recent results and thinking ‘can we kick on with this group and have a positive effect on them?’ You always think you can, but are never quite sure.
“Straight away I realised how hard-working and diligent the group are. How together they are – when you get that spirit it is a really good cocktail to work with.
“If the players are prepared to work hard and are close-knit then they are the ingredients you’re looking for.
“Over a short period you realise how good and capable some of these players are in the division. I’ve been pleased with the way the group has gone about it in terms of their attitude – it’s been unbelievable.
“They had a willingness to take on new ideas. They had played a similar way for quite a while and it’s not always easy to take on those ideas and implement them.
“The fact they have played two or three different formations and in a different way to their natural inclination – for example trying to get Hutchy and Coops to be comfortable stepping out with the ball and up the pitch to join in attacks. That took a little bit of convincing but they took on those ideas fantastically well.
“There is a resilience in the group. We haven’t lost two [league games] in a row, that tells you a lot about the character as well. There’s been a lot of positives.”
A restricted number of supporters are set to be allowed to attend football matches from October. The new Championship season starts on September 12.
“The first game back with a crowd will be fantastic – even if it is half or a third, it will be great,” said Rowett.
“Maybe that was the difference – not being able to have our crowd there to spur us on. I’m sure the fans have been absolutely desperate to be back because it is a massive part of some peoples’ lives.
“It will be great to give them that back. Hopefully we can make it enjoyable, because we’re going to be under pressure to win games for them straight away.”
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