BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Wes Harding is already in unchartered territory for goalscoring this season and if the defender nets for a third Millwall match in succession then his celebration will once again be Cristiano Ronaldo-themed.
The 27-year-old centre-back scored twice in 140 appearances for Rotherham United but already has matched that in just nine matches for the Lions, who he joined on a free transfer in the summer.
Harding headed his first in the 2-1 home defeat to Blackburn Rovers last midweek and then powered George Saville’s corner home in Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Watford. On both occasions the Arsenal fan mimicked Portuguese superstar Ronaldo’s iconic ‘Siuuuuu’ celebration.
Harding had never scored more than once in a campaign before this one. There are plenty of matches left to go for Millwall, so what total does he feel is obtainable?
“Anything is possible,” he told the South London Press. “My primary aim is not to score goals but if I’m in and around the box then I do want to do that. I was saying to someone the other day: ‘I’ve got a real taste for it now’. I want to score more. My aim is to defend well and win games – which didn’t happen the other day – but it was beautiful to score, man it felt so good.
“Last season I scored against Blackpool for Rotherham and it (the Ronaldo celebration) was just a bit of banter. I don’t score goals – so it isn’t like I think about what I’m going to do. I just run away. I was thinking about the last time I did it, it just happened spontaneously.
“The most recent game against Watford I thought, you know what, I’ll just do the same thing again.
“I’m a believer in Jesus Christ so I’m not superstitious, but the celebration feels good and I think it has got to stay.
“It was a perfect ball in by Savs. It was on the money – right in the centre of the goal – and screaming for someone to attack it. We have got good delivery in the team.”
Watford substitute Imran Louza was marking Harding but lacked the physicality or height to adequately compete. The Hornets player did have a brief hold of his opponent’s shirt but quickly let go.
“You can only grab so much because if if stretches it then it is going to be a pen,” said Harding. “There was no way I wasn’t going to win that ball.”
Harding’s goal against Blackburn went down as a goalkeeping error. Leopold Wahlstedt attempted to hold the ball but it squirmed between his legs.
“He was on the line and once it went through his arms I knew it was going in – there was no time or space for him to recover,” said Harding.
“The day before that we were doing attacking set-pieces and I was scoring loads. I think Aidomo (Emakhu) said: ‘You’re going to score tomorrow’.”
Stats website Whoscored.com have Millwall second for set-piece goals (seven) in the Championship, a total only bettered by Cardiff (eight).
Jake Cooper nearly scored from a Saville free-kick at Vicarage Road, before Mileta Rajovic’s 92nd-minute equaliser, Watford’s Wesley Hoedt’s valiant goal-line clearing header hitting the underside of the crossbar before the ball went back into open play.
“I was fuming,” said Harding, who was lurking and ready for any scraps. “Their player has done really well to keep it out.
“I’ve played against Millwall and you know they are really good at set-pieces – that you have to mark and defend well. So I knew it was one of our strengths when I signed. We showed that in the last game. It’s not only about being good from them offensively, we need to be good defensively at them as well.”
Harding needs two more appearances to reach 150 in the Championship. The Jamaican international knows that Millwall’s next boss – whether that be current caretaker Adam Barrett or an external candidate – is liable to be doing their homework on the current squad.
“I was at my previous club for three years but one-and-a-half years in there I was still trying to perform – because I don’t know if my manager could go tomorrow,” he said. “There is always somebody watching – that is the mindset you have to have.
“Football is so unpredictable that a new manager could come in tomorrow and already have an opinion on you. You have always got to be representing yourself well. So I was doing that before and I am doing it now.
“I was surprised Gary Rowett left but football is never 100 per cent stable – things chop and change so quickly. It is so unpredictable. I sent him a nice message and we had a good conversation. I wish him all the best – he is a good man.”
Millwall’s deadball moments could be vital tomorrow against a Southampton side who have averaged the most possession in the league – 64.3 per cent. Millwall have averaged 43 per cent, putting them 19th.
The Lions have struggled to get their home form going. Since a 3-0 win over Harding’s old club Rotherham they have banked one point from a possible nine in SE16.
Only QPR and Sheffield Wednesday have collected fewer points on home turf.
“That isn’t great,” said Harding, when told that stat. “We’ve had some good performances at home – just results haven’t gone our way. But, of course, it is a results-based business and your home form needs to be good to climb the table.
“That is the plan from here on out – to really turn our home form around.”
Harding has the chance to make it a personal treble if he can make another set-piece count.
“You know what the celebration would be – but I’m hoping for a win, at home, more than anything,” he said. “That is more important than me scoring, isn’t it?”
Subscribe to Blog via Email
Everyone at the South London Press thanks you for your continued support.
Former 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:
“A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
If you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can make a donation which will allow us to continue to bring stories to you, both in print and online. Or, 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