BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Jed Wallace reckons a top-10 finish would be deemed a success for Millwall as they gear up for another Championship campaign.
The Lions have ended up eighth in two of their three previous campaigns in English football’s second tier.
And there are plenty of reasons for optimism in SE16, with Millwall producing top-six form since Gary Rowett replaced Neil Harris in the Den hotseat in October.
Winger Wallace scored 10 goals and picked up 13 assists in the
2019-20 campaign – making him one of the top attackers outside of the Premier League. And he knows that it was the final third where the Lions – so defensively strong – just fell short.
Wallace said: “I look at it the same as last season – can we build the same platform defensively? Then we need a few more individuals to add goals to their game to hopefully take us where we want to be.
“We want to be consistently top 10 and then try and nick in there [the play-offs] one year. If you look at Ipswich under Mick McCarthy they flitted between sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth – and also nicked the play-offs. We are probably similar size clubs.
“Any higher than 10th for Millwall is a great achievement.
“Last season we finished exactly where we deserved to. We won games where we didn’t play particularly well – Derby away stands out. The draws we had, most of them were quite even games where we couldn’t find that extra bit of quality to get the win.
“Leeds, West Brom, Fulham and Brentford were comfortably out on their own as the best teams. Then you had us, Cardiff, Swansea, Preston and Derby who all played different ways but if we did a mini-marathon league of 50 games we’d have very similar points.
“You saw in the play-off final that although both teams looked nervous they had that control. The way they dictated play is something we can definitely look at. It is something we need to improve – especially against the so-called poorer teams. We’ve got to find a way to break sides down who come to The Den happy with a point. It’s something we’ve struggled with in the last three seasons.
“We need a few more of our attacking players to be more consistent with their final pass and finish. That can make the difference when you have a defence and goalkeeper as good as ours.”
Wallace is only 13 matches away from 300 first-team appearances.
It is something the former Portsmouth and Wolves man – who has 146 Championship games under his belt – takes pride in.
“I was playing with my mates on a field when I was 16,” he said. “I sat down with my mum and dad and had a serious conversation that if I could play at Conference level or full-time in League Two – at a push – it would be amazing.
“I think 150 games in the Championship definitely shows you are proven at this level. This is the level I want to play at as a minimum. I’ve got huge aspirations to go one higher – I believe I can do it and I’d love to do that with Millwall and this gaffer in charge.”
Wallace came fourth in a list of ‘total footballers’ on one website – which rates players on all areas of the outfield game. Lionel Messi was top with Said Benrahma and Eberechi Eze, who joined Palace this summer, second and third.
“Last season was good for me but I was disappointed I didn’t score as many as I’d have liked after Christmas,” said Wallace. “I went on a mad run where I scored or was setting up a goal for about three months. When you’ve set that standard people are quick to then say you’ve not played well.”
Wallace is a huge admirer of Eze, who was released by Millwall but went on to become a quality playmaker for QPR.
“He was the best player I’ve seen in the Championship for a long time,” said Wallace. “In a lot of the games where we face the so-called bigger sides you find we keep their stars quiet but he was very, very good against us in both matches last season.
“In the last game [at Loftus Road] they could’ve scored 10 and he was involved in everything.
“Millwall games are quite often 1-0 but they scored six goals in two matches and could’ve easily doubled that. He will go down as one of the very best number 10s in the Championship – like Mason Mount and Jack Grealish.
“I think by the end of next season he’ll be competing with those boys in the England squad.”
Wallace is a keen student of the Championship, so who does he expect to be challenging for promotion in May?
“I look at Forest, Norwich and Cardiff,” he said. “If you are close to them three you’ll probably be in and around the top seven or eight. You’ve got Bournemouth and Watford, who could be anything really.
“Every year you say it looks harder and that’s because every year it gets tighter. The teams who come down get a bit of a surprise at the quality of the Championship.”
Please support your local paper by making a donation
Please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing recently: “A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
So if you have enjoyed reading this story, and if you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can buy our newspaper or make a donation, which will allow us to continue to bring stories like this one to you both in print and online.