BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Murray Wallace has booked his summer holiday – and he has made sure it doesn’t clash with the Championship play-off schedule.
The Lions are two points behind sixth-placed Preston North End and will look to follow up an excellent
3-0 victory at Nottingham Forest when Derby County arrive in SE16 tomorrow.
Wallace, 27, is too experienced a campaigner to make any mistakes with scheduling his break once the campaign is completed.
The Championship play-off final takes place on May 25.
“We’ve booked something – but we’ve made sure it is a safe time,” said Wallace, signed before the start of last season from Scunthorpe.
“I’ve been in this position before – a lot of the lads know the script. If you book something [that clashes] you’ve got to accept you’re going to have to cancel it.”
Millwall finished eighth in the 2017-18 campaign – an undefeated run of 17 matches sparking genuine belief that they could go into the knockout phase.
This time around the Lions have a lot less ground to make up.
“I remember that run they went on,” said Wallace. “It was spoken about because they went on a mad winning streak. It was brilliant. And if we’re closer then maybe it gives us a better chance.
“It’s easy to go: “I’ve got nine games left – let’s set a target of winning this amount’. But I feel like you can be distracted or take your eye off it a little if you start looking at how many games are remaining.
“You’ve got to have the same mentality as if you’re fighting for your life down the bottom.
“It’s a massive opportunity.
“Coming up against some of the teams around and about the bottom at this stage can be harder than some of the teams at the top. Players are fighting to stay away from relegation. Sometimes it does take players or teams to get into that situation before the real fight in them comes out. It’s why they can be quite hard to play against.”
Millwall have had a settled defensive unit this season – the only change largely being when manager Gary Rowett opts for a 5-2-3 formation and club captain Alex Pearce is added to the backline.
The Lions have kept 12 clean sheets in the current campaign – 10 of those since Rowett succeeded Neil Harris at The Den in late October.
“Last season was my first in the club and it will take you a little bit of time to get those relationships and how everyone wants to play,” said Wallace, who has played on the left of the defence.
“Mahlon [Romeo], Hutch [Shaun Hutchinson] and Coops [Jake Cooper] have been here a long time and Pearcey is a leader, he’s fitted in really well.
“It’s consistency – getting to know the strengths and weaknesses of your team-mates. The more you play together you get that stronger bond.”
The Lions announced on Monday that Romeo had signed a new long-term contract. Hutchinson also extended his terms recently too.
Right-back Romeo has played 172 times for Millwall since he was released by Gillingham in July 2015.
“It’s fully deserved,” said Wallace. “Sometimes players need a little setback in their career to then kick on. Leaving Gillingham and then coming here and doing so well is amazing for Mahlon.
“Everyone is doing well. Consistency is key for defenders – you want to be reliable and dependable.
“Probably Hutch goes under the radar. He’s scored quite a few goals and got loads of man of the matches, I keep seeing him in the division’s team of the week.
“We’re all the same. If Hutchy is in team of the week he says: ‘I’m just doing my bit’. Mahlon is the same. We’re all doing our bit.”
Wallace’s displays also haven’t been overly lauded despite being highly dependable both at left-back or in a wing-back role.
He largely contained the threat of Forest’s Joe Lolley at the City Ground as well as providing the cross for Matt Smith’s opening goal.
“He’s done brilliantly for me and made it look like a great cross,” said the Scot. “It’s part of my game that I’m trying to get more of – more assists. I’ll keep trying.
“I know Joe quite well. I played with him at Huddersfield and he came on loan at Scunthorpe when I was on loan there. I know how much of a threat he is. You can see the quality of Forest – they can be a threat for anyone on their day.
“There’s no easy opposition. If you go into a game and think this will be an easier opponent then you’re probably going to have a worse game or the opposition will come out on top of you.”
Could Wallace be following the likes of Hutchinson and Romeo in putting pen to paper.
“With the team playing the way we are, the players that are out of contract…they’ll be looking to secure them,” he said. “I signed a three-year deal, so I’ve still got the end of this season and the next one. It’s in the club’s hands, isn’t it? In terms of what they want to do.
“Hutch and Mahlon have signed long-term deals and deservedly so.
“It’s not something I’ve asked about. I’m concentrating on my football. It would be more on my mind or urgent if I was going to be out of contract.
“It’s up to them – if they want to do something earlier, rather than later, they can do that. I’m just focusing on where we are in the league.”
If Millwall can get it right over the next couple of months they could be a Premier League side – extra satisfaction when soaking up those sunshine rays.