BY DANIEL MARSH
Matt Smith has urged Millwall to take a “winning mentality” to West Brom tomorrow – and is adamant the Lions’ slow start to the season won’t hit their changes of making the play-offs.
Millwall picked up their first league win of the season at the fifth attempt in a nervy affair with Blackpool two weeks ago.
But they never make it easy against 10 men, They fell behind before Jed Wallace dragged Millwall level with a stunning free-kick, then teed up Jake Cooper to power home a late winner.
And Smith believes that late goal will give his team-mates a boost before their challenging encounter in the Midlands.
“The win breeds confidence and galvanizes us,” said the Lions striker.
“But it’s such an early stage of the season that there’s nothing really to focus on too much in the sense that there’s still so much football to be played. The season isn’t going to be decided in the months of August or September – it’s going to be decided in the latter parts.
“We’ve got to build on what we’ve done so far and take that winning mentality to West Brom.
“They’re a very good side, laced with very talented players. They have an extremely good manager who plays a really exciting brand of football.
“It’s going to be very up-and-at-’em and very physical, so we need to be prepared for that.
“I think we’ve seen enough of them to know what they’re going to bring, so it’s up to us to stand up to that test.”
Smith has given Gary Rowett a decision to make after impressing in back-to-back starts before the international break.
Smith was on target in the Lions’ 3-1 league cup win over Cambridge United on August 24. He didn’t get on the score sheet against Blackpool but is hoping to retain his spot for the trip to West Brom.
“That’s not for me to decide,” added Smith. “That’s the manager’s decision. He obviously plays the team he feels can beat the team on the day.
“West Brom will pose a different set of problems to Blackpool. They have a totally different style of play.
“All I can do is do my best when called upon, like I always have done for Millwall.
“A striker is always going to be judged on his goal return, so I managed to do alright in front of goal on the Tuesday to keep my place against Blackpool.
“That was really pleasing to be a part of. I was disappointed not to get on the score sheet, but I really enjoyed it. I did my best to contribute and impact the game as best I could.
“That’s the headache that I bring – I obviously want to play every week and I do my best to stay in the team. I realise that’s not always going to be the case, but when I’m given the opportunity, it’s down to me to leave an impression.”
Smith has happy memories of heading to the Hawthorns in a Lions shirt.
The 32-year-old grabbed his first Millwall goal against the Baggies back in the 1-1 draw in August 2019.
But with Albion’s direct transformation under ex-Barnsley boss Valerian Ismael, Smith’s aerial ability in both boxes could play a big role in how the Lions fare in the Midlands.
“I think the defensive duties and set-pieces is another side of the game that I can bring along with what we’ve already got,” he said.
“If called upon, that’ll be something that I can do, helping to shut out any goals during the times they get the ball in the box, which I’m sure will be plenty.
“Historically, we’ve done well against the big teams.
“I’m not sure if it’s the underdog mentality or the way we set up. Certainly against bigger teams we seem to hit them on the break and get good results.
“It’s going to be a difficult test but that’s the nature of the Championship. I know it’s a bit cliché, but all the games are tough – it’s probably the one division where bottom could beat top on any given day.
“That’s why it’s so exciting.
“We know exactly what we’re going to expect. It’s up to us to put the hard yards in like we did against Blackpool to get another result.”
The Lions snapped up Liverpool winger Sheyi Ojo on a season-long loan on deadline day, with the winger expected to feature against the Baggies.
Having another winger capable of providing quality ammunition from the flanks is obviously something that appeals to Smith.
“I’ve always maintained that my supply line is ultimately what’s going to make me look good or bad,” he said.
“It’s paramount to me that I have good ammunition coming from the wing with dynamic wingers who can produce that quality and get crosses in the box, so to see a winger of Sheyi’s quality come through the door is exciting.
“Hopefully it’s a relationship which can blossom on the pitch and yield plenty of goals.”
Ojo’s arrival appears to be a hint that the Lions could be set to tweak their shape.
Smith featured alongside Benik Afobe and Jed Wallace in a three-pronged attack against Blackpool – a slight variation on the 5-3-2 which has been deployed so far this term.
It’s a switch that could pay dividends for Smith if it becomes a permanent fixture. “Like anything, you need to be adaptable – you need to have plenty of strings to your bow,” he said.
“That’s going to be important for us so that we have different ways of playing and means of operating.
“What worked for us last season may not work for us this season. It’s a totally different set of variables in front of us.
“Hopefully the way we play is conducive to me and I can be that person that contributes and impacts for us.”
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