BY RICHARD CAWLEY
When it comes to Millwall’s Player of the Year award, Shaun Hutchinson has every chance of collecting the accolade for the second time.
WhoScored.com – a respected stats site – has the Lions centre-back in their Championship team of the season along with winger Jed Wallace. Both men have an average rating of 7.3.
Hutchinson’s form has been such that Millwall announced in January that the former Fulham and Motherwell defender had signed a new long-term contract.
There are so many examples of shrewd signings during the Neil Harris era. The 29-year-old Geordie – on a free after being let go by the west London club in the summer of 2016 – is right up there.
“I had a clause in my contract that if I played so many games it was a trigger for another year,” explained Hutchinson. “Millwall just spoke to me about where I’d be with a contract. They were going to extend my option year, but said: ‘How about you sign longer term?’ I was open to the discussions.
“I’ve not had one unenjoyable moment since I’ve been here, even with a managerial change. We came to an agreement.
“It’s probably going to end up being the majority of my career that I end up staying here.
“To sign for three years, I’m over the moon with it. I don’t see any reason right now why I would ever want to move. Things in football change but I signed a long-term contract and I plan on being happy here.”
The last time that Hutchinson walked away with the main player award at Millwall was the 2017-18 campaign – the SE16 outfit finishing eighth in the Championship with a 17-game unbeaten run powering them into play-off contention.
The current crop of Lions are a point behind the total that Harris’ side – undefeated in 10 matches at that point – had at the same juncture of the campaign.
Millwall went on to win five of their next seven before defeats to Fulham and Middlesbrough finally ended their admirable attempts to take the final play-off spot.
Lions boss Gary Rowett told the South London Press this week that around 72 points would be needed to stand a chance of the top six. It leaves Millwall requiring two points per game – normally the benchmark return for clubs targeting automatic promotion before a ball is kicked in August.
“We know we can’t afford to really mess up if we want to make something of the season,” said Hutchinson. “We need to win games and be going for it more.
“You can see that sometimes in our performance. Looking back at the Wigan game, although we didn’t play great, we were desperate to go and win it. It doesn’t suit the Millwall way – everyone going for it and being a bit desperate.
“At times it’s proved quite difficult for us because teams are maybe giving us more respect.
“Look at the Birmingham game – they were happy for a point. When we were struggling last season we were going to teams happy for a point. It’s just the way it is. It’s why the lower league teams are harder to play against at this stage – because they are fighting for their lives. It’s what they do.
“We were always kind of playing catch up because we had a bit of an on-off start to the season.
“There have been times in the season where people have talked about the play-offs and said: ‘Now it’s gone – and then it’s there again’.
“We knew if we didn’t win the Preston game then it’s probably done. We win that, then people are talking about us again. We then don’t win the next one and people stop talking about us.
“There’s no point looking too far ahead. If you get yourself in there then you start talking about it.
“We’re two losses away from being not in it at all or a win away from being back involved.
Hutchinson is sporting a black eye when we sit down at Millwall’s training ground – the result of Bristol City’s Callum O’Dowda catching him with the back of his head in last Saturday’s 1-1 draw.
He has played every minute for the Lions apart from when his decision to try and play on after sustaining a rib injury against Swansea had repercussions.
“I fought it off with painkillers and tried to play the Wigan game,” explained Hutchinson. “I made it 10 times worse. I literally couldn’t get out of bed for two or three days. I missed Birmingham and was on the bench for the next one because the boys had done well.
“With me it is normally cuts and stitches. The boys have given me a bit of stick saying that I’d be a terrible boxer – which I’m not arguing about.
“It’s more about having to go off the pitch for two or three minutes and not the scars – I can deal with them.
“I’ve never broken my nose. I’m probably the only one who hasn’t had a broken nose as a centre-half – unless you’re six foot eight like Coops [Jake Cooper].
“I’m glad I haven’t broken it as I’m getting married in the summer. That wouldn’t look great.”
Inset Pics by Brian Tonks
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