BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Scott Malone is ready for another unrelenting spell of Championship football – but admits this season’s schedule leaves little time to prepare for the next test.
The Lions play nine times in the next four weeks following a brief breather for the international break.
The fixture programme has been ramped up due to the Covid-19 pandemic which delayed the end of the 2019-20 season with the subsequent squeeze of wrapping up the current campaign before the Euro 2020 finals.
Malone said: “In the last couple of weeks we’ve had four hard days, just to get a little bit of a base for everybody.
“Those players who haven’t played as much have needed a bit of topping up. But none of us have had much of a rest because you need to keep your levels up. When the matches are so close together you don’t really train together as a group a lot.
“If you play away on a Tuesday then you don’t get back until the early hours of Wednesday and you can’t really train properly on the Thursday. You really come together the day before a game to get the tactics right and then you go out there on a matchday. That’s the reality of three matches in a week.
“We were building a bit of confidence getting back-to-back away points at Norwich and Sheffield [Wednesday]. Now it is going to go crazy for a couple of months.”
Malone signed on loan from Derby County in August and has played in 10 of the opening 11 Championship matches – starting nine of those.
Prior to agreeing a return to the Lions he had only clocked up a handful of minutes for the Rams since the end of February.
But the 29-year-old feels he has absorbed the workload well considering his previous inactivity at Pride Park.
“I’ve found it alright,” he said. “If you are going into a third game in a week then you do feel a bit of fatigue but then the adrenaline starts pumping. It masks any problems, you just get on with it.
“I didn’t play much football last season and I thought I might find it tougher than I have, but I’ve always been naturally fit. I feel strong in my legs, so the recent break probably did come at the right time.
“We’ve played 11 games and there is a lot more to go. I’m sure everyone will start feeling it after Christmas and New Year but it’s the same for every club, it’s going to be how each squad deals with it.”
Malone has previously talked about being in the shop window with his contract due to expire at the end of June. And he is happy with the way he has performed in his second spell with the Lions.
“It took me a couple of games to find my feet because I hadn’t played for so long,” said Malone, who has clocked up 82 appearances for Millwall. “I think I’ve done well.
“I’m playing wing-back now – it’s not a traditional full-back role. There is more emphasis for me to create and score goals. I could have a couple of goals and a couple of assists to my name so far, that’s the only real disappointment.
“I’m getting into the right areas. I’ve just got to convert those chances into a bit more of an end product and that will turn into points and winning games. You only stay in the team if you’re doing well and I’ve played a lot.”
It is Millwall’s biggest points haul in the Championship after 11 matches since they were promoted in the summer of 2017.
“I’m sure if you asked anyone at the club we’d have liked a couple more wins,” said Malone. “Is it daft to say that when it is the best start we’ve had in four years? But you look at a couple of games where we should have won.
“But you’ve got teams below us like Brentford who have been tipped to go up. This is going to be a real strange season because of the lack of a pre-season and then so many games – you can’t train. You can prepare right, but not as in-depth as you have been in previous seasons.”
The missing link for Millwall since Gary Rowett took charge has been increasing their scoring prowess. Defensively they have been superb.
Malone said: “It’s alright scoring two goals but if you lose 3-2 then what’s the point? I don’t think many teams will go and win at Carrow Road – Norwich are one of the best teams in the division in the way they dictate the ball. They must be right near the top of the charts for chances created.
“Even if you get past us as a group and get in on goal then you face Bart [Bialkowski]. He’s one of the best keepers in the league.”
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