BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Ryan Woods has had two loan spells at Millwall – but doesn’t expect that to be an option again in the summer.
The 27-year-old central midfielder has clocked up 62 appearances for the Lions and been a key component of Gary Rowett’s side since initially arriving in January 2020.
Woods has only been out of their matchday squad three times this season, twice because he was ineligible to face parent club Stoke and he missed the Nottingham Forest match in December after contracting Covid-19.
But his long-term future is uncertain. Woods still has 14 months to run on his City contract but does not appear to be part of Michael O’Neill’s plans.
“I’ve been a footballer long enough to know that football changes every day,” he told the South London Press. “But I think a loan [to Millwall] would be very difficult because I will be in the last year of my contract.
“If I’m not going to play for Stoke next season then a permanent move is better for everyone.
“Since my Brentford days I haven’t really had a home that feels permanent.
“I had a year and a half at Stoke but after the gaffer [Rowett] left it was ups and down. It was quite difficult for me to settle there.
“I’m really looking forward to finding a permanent home, getting comfortable and hopefully getting back to the Ryan Woods that I want to be, and know I can be.
“The move to Millwall has been everything I hoped it would be. I saw a funny stat the other day that I have played more minutes than any other Stoke player this season.
“I’ve just really enjoyed playing football again on a regular basis. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do – to play two or three times a week. I’m happy that I managed to achieve that.”
So which of the two seasons has Woods enjoyed more in SE16?
The answer comes quickly.
“I’d definitely say the first loan spell. Purely just based on the quality of football, it was a lot better due to fans being there for some of it. Them not being there this season has probably played a huge part.”
Woods only played five home matches at The Den before Covid-19 halted the Championship season. All but one of their matches since has been behind closed doors.
“I haven’t really experienced the atmosphere I got told about,” he said. “Our home form this season hasn’t been anywhere near as good as we wanted it to be.
“If it was as good as normal then we’d probably be in and around the play-offs, because our away results have been pretty good. The lack of fans has definitely had a detrimental effect on me and the rest of the team.
“If I’m being honest I was probably hitting my top form in the first loan and I was at the level I like to be at consistently. It’s been more difficult this season, the playing surfaces haven’t been good.
“The quality of football hasn’t been great. If you even look at Swansea and Brentford they have got long-throw specialists, which I don’t think you’d have seen last season or the seasons before that.
“The football has changed a little bit and the pitches have had a massive impact on that.
“The Den hasn’t been very good but hopefully there will be a new pitch in there next season. The groundsmen haven’t had the time to do the work they wanted to do on the surfaces because, a bit like for the players, there has been no break.”
Woods is yet to discuss his situation with Rowett, who is a confirmed admirer. It was the Millwall chief who took him to Stoke for big money from the Bees and also felt he could add composure to the South London side’s play.
“I’d imagine we’ll probably speak in the last week but it hasn’t really got anything to do with me,” said Woods. “It will be him sitting down with my agent and seeing what options are available.
“I’m just looking forward to going on holiday, or trying to. I’ll try to go to Cornwall for a week and then go abroad once things are lifted internationally.
“I’ll let my agent take care of the other stuff.”
Millwall face Bristol City tomorrow in their final home game of the campaign before wrapping things up at Coventry next Saturday.
Woods reckons it has been a successful season even if they remain 12th – despite an eighth-place finish last time around.
“It will be just purely because of the amount of injuries we’ve had to key players. Lenny [Ryan Leonard] had been doing so well and Hutch [Shaun Hutchinson] is a big player for us. Smudge [Matt Smith] can make a real impact off the bench… the list just goes on.”
Photos: Brian Tonks
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