BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Gary Rowett can’t wait to walk out at The Den tomorrow in front of 2,000 Millwall fans – and reckons whatever noise they generate has got to be an improvement on “horrendous” behind-closed-doors fixtures.
The Lions host his former club Derby County in SE16 and the lifting of government restrictions from Wednesday means a restricted number of supporters can attend.
The last time that Millwall played at home before the initial lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic saw a crowd of 13,584 for a 1-1 draw with Bristol City.
Rowett only had 12 league matches on the Lions’ turf before football was suspended – returning in June without any fans in attendance.
The Millwall manager said: “I don’t think anyone is suggesting it’s going to be as good as a full house – but I certainly feel that some atmosphere is better than no atmosphere.
“Someone made a comment to me the other day that I found quite incredible. I’ve been the manager of the club for about 13 months and we’ve only had fans there for about four months of them. That puts it into perspective. It almost feels like we’ve been robbed of something.
“I came to Millwall because I think it is an excellent club, but also because the fans are so passionate. We have certainly missed them. So to have 2,000 there will be great.
“As managers we are in a very privileged position on the sidelines because we can make the fans’ week or break the fans’ week. As a manager you love that atmosphere you get from the matches.
“I have to say it has been horrendous to walk out to empty stadiums.
“It will just be nice to hear some noise. It doesn’t mean we’re suddenly going to win all our games because we have 2,000 back.”
Rowett has a number of absences from his squad. Scott Malone, who scored in Wednesday’s controversial 2-1 loss at Blackburn, cannot feature against his parent club as part of the loan agreement.
Jake Cooper’s run of 136 consecutive league matches came to an end in midweek due to his dislocated shoulder.
The big centre-back is likely to need surgery to fix the issue, but might be able to get through the remainder of the campaign before going under the knife.
Cooper looks set to miss out again this weekend.
Kenneth Zohore, Connor Mahoney and Billy Mitchell are all injured while attacker Mason Bennett is touch and go to face his ex-employers due to a quad strain.
“We hoped Mase might be back for the weekend but it’s probably looking less likely,” said Rowett.
“We’ve had a long journey on a Wednesday night.
“Bradders [Tom Bradshaw] jarred his knee towards the end in a tackle and Jon Dadi [Bodvarsson] got a whack on his foot
“There is going to be a toll to that in terms of fatigue and which players we feel can go again.
“Ideally you make four or five changes to maintain our energy for the weekend and what is a really important game for us. But we might just have to go with what we’ve got, try to put out the best team we can.
“I said before these fixtures it was going to be survival of the fittest and that we couldn’t afford to have a lot of injuries, but unfortunately we have.
“The fact the fans are there is perfect timing, in that sense. I don’t think anyone who is playing will be saying about being tired or mental fatigue, because they are back. I think this game will take care of itself.
“We haven’t got an excuses culture – we just say it how it is.”
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