Ryan Leonard fit and firing as Millwall get back to Championship action

Millwall boss Gary Rowett will be hoping Ryan Leonard is the missing ingredient.

The central midfielder has only been on the losing side twice in his 13 games this season.

The Lions meanwhile have just two wins under their belt in their last nine Championship games.

Lockdown came at just the wrong time for the Den outfit, after a 3-0 Friday night away win at Nottingham Forest.

But for Leonard the halt to the season has been a blessing in disguise as it gave him plenty of time to recover from a hamstring strain which had kept him out of the last four encounters before hostilities ceased.

Rowett’s side face his former club Derby tomorrow in an empty Den stadium – which may be filled with the sound of fans even though crowds are not allowed and supporters will have to watch at home.

For Leonard, it is a chance to really affect the outcome as Millwall sit two points behind sixth-placed Preston.

“It will be great to get back out and play football,” said Leonard.

“There is no form book anymore – or any league table, effectively. It would be like the first game of a season even if there are only nine matches. The results will depend on whoever is the fittest and who is the most organised.

“Derby have a good squad of players. We know it’ll be a hard game and they will come down and know it is going to be tough for them.

“They will be up for it, but everyone is champing at the bit.

“We have to do our best and hopefully that will be enough to get a result.

“I’m definitely excited and so is everyone. It has been nice to be back to normal. We are really looking forward to competitive action.

“It was great to see the lads back in training. When we first started, it was social distancing and everyone was really keen to get back to normal training.

“None of us have taken our foot off the gas with everything that has happened and we have been constantly doing the stuff at home and the club has really pushed as hard.”

Leonard has had to cope with an extra added dimension – his 11-month old daughter.

“It was a challenge trying to do press-ups with a little one jumping all over you,” he said. “It’s been carnage, to be fair!

“But the two fitness coaches have been brilliant – giving us sessions every morning and we’ve been doing them in our gardens.

“It has been quite good fun watching everyone with their kids jumping all over them. We’ve also had programmes to stick to and that has been enjoyable. But my garden isn’t really big enough because of my daughter!

“It has been nice to see everyone’s faces during our virtual sessions and having a catch-up.

“Everyone has been in the same situation – not being able to see the lads.

“But the silver lining was spending time with my family and being around them, because normally we would all be having games and travelling and you don’t get to spend much time at home.”

Leonard ruptured the lateral ligament in his knee in October and was out for eight weeks. But then he suffered the same injury – and was out for a total of five-and-half months.

“I have never had a serious injury up to this point – I have been quite lucky,” said the former Plymouth Argyle, Southend United and Sheffield United midfielder. “So maybe I was due to have one.

“But the gaffer has brought in some really good players over the transfer window.

“It’s nice for me to be back now because the squad is going to be needed.

“We have got strength in depth and everyone will be needed if someone picks up an injury. We all need to be ready and take our chances.

“It will be a very demanding five weeks, with the travelling and games every other day. It’s a tough enough league as it is – and with games so compact together, it’ll be even harder so I cannot imagine the team will stay the same.

“But we’ve already had enough time off. So now we’ll just try to get a win on Saturday and see what happens.

“We have not set ourselves any expectations.

“If we get one win, then we will do everything we can to win the next one. We’ll take it a game at a time, as the cliche goes, and give our fans something to be happy about.”

Millwall’s behind-closed-doors games may have the noise of fans piped into the stadium.

“It has been a bit strange warming up with the sound of the crowd around you when there is no one there,” he said.

“It feels like you’re playing real-life FIFA. We will get used to it. I’ve only been in the club for a couple of years but having fans behind us in the stadium is one of our biggest assets.”


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