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Championship

Matt Smith: Survival of the fittest

19 June 2020

After more than 100 days since a ball was last kicked, Championship football returns on Saturday as the journey continues.

One player raring to go is Millwall’s Matt Smith who, last time out, scored a memorable hat-trick to help the Lions to a 3-0 win at Nottingham Forest, as they reduced the gap to sixth to just two points.   
 
Having signed in the summer of 2019, Smith - who has over 300 professional appearances to his name, more than 200 of them at Championship level - has scored 11 League goals this season, and is just one short of his career Championship-season high of 12 with Leeds United back in 2013/14. 
 
As Millwall prepare to face Derby County this weekend, the EFL caught up with Millwall’s no.10 to discuss a wide range of topics including; being back in training, Millwall’s form before the break, playing behind closed doors, Gary Rowett as manager and Millwall’s underdog status.  
 
On being back in training… 
 
“It’s been great to be back in training. I think all the lads are chomping at the bit to get back to normality, albeit a new normal, but it’s been great. 
 
“It’s certainly been tough, but it’s also been modified to a degree in the sense that we’ve been keeping a lot fitter than we might have if this was a normal off-season. We’ve been a lot more disciplined and a lot more structured in these past few months than we might have been when the season ends. 
 
"The lads have all come back flying fit, everyone’s stuck to the isolation programmes that we had and we’re all raring to go.”
 
On Millwall’s form before the break...  
 
“I thought we were doing brilliantly. We’d just had a really positive result away to Nottingham Forest at the City Ground, we drew with Bristol City the week before and we were in decent form. The break probably came at a bad time for us in that respect, so we’re literally just looking to pick up from where we left off really." 
 
On playing behind closed doors...
 
“It’s going to be a strange scenario I think, particularly playing behind closed doors. Our home form has been really good this season and that’s probably testament to the fans and the atmosphere that’s created at the Den. We’re not going to have that so we’re going to have to really step up as a group of players and make sure we give it all we’ve got as a group of players. We’re only two points off the Play-Offs and there’s so much to play for, we’re all very excited at the prospect of that." 
 
On scoring a hat-trick against Nottingham Forest and his personal form before the break...
 
“It feels like a lifetime ago now, but I feel fit, I feel confident and I’m really raring to go again. The confidence I would have got from that game against Forest might have worn off by now unfortunately but let’s hope that’s not the case and I can come out all guns blazing against Derby."
 
On the final nine games… 
 
“We’ve had an opportunity to regroup and reassess and everyone is going to have to be chomping at the bit, because I personally believe it’s going to be survival of the fittest for the last nine games. The volume is going to be totally unprecedented. Yes we’re used to midweek games but to have a month of Saturday-midweek is going to be really intense and I think the group that can stay fittest, rotate the squad the best is going to come out on top. 
 
“I really do think it’s going to be a case of survival of the fittest and we’ve got a really fit bunch of lads so hopefully we can all stay injury free and come out of this well.”
 
On Millwall’s ‘underdog’ status...
 
“We are classed as underdogs, being outside the Play-Offs. I don’t think we have the weight of expectation on us because of where we are. Internally we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to succeed and meet standards that we set ourselves, but externally I do think we are underdogs to an extent. When the pressure is off you, you naturally have an underdog mentality which can take you far. I don’t think anyone from the outside looking in expected us to be in the position that we’re in, which is testament to the group of players and the manager.”
 
On Gary Rowett...
 
“He’s been a revelation, he’s been absolutely fantastic. I’ve really enjoyed working with him, I think our form has been top two form from when he took over. But I think he’s also bought a new and cutting tactical side to our game. Everything that he maps out in the week tends to materialise in a game and nine times out of ten we’ve had success with it. Added to that, he’s a great people person and a good guy which is why everyone is singing off the same hymn sheet.”
 
On the Sky Bet Championship...  
 
“I think that’s why it’s one of the most exciting league’s to watch [it’s unpredictability]. Bottom can beat top on any given day in the Championship and I think that’s why everyone loves it so much. 
 
“We understand as much as anyone how a couple of results can fire you up the league, but on the flip side if you lose a couple it can be a slippery slope. That’s why as cliche as it is, we have to treat every game as a cup final and I think it’ll be interesting behind closed doors because you don’t know what it’s going to bring or take away from certain teams. 
 
“We’ve had some great results against the top teams this season. We’ve had some great results picking up points against Bristol City, Preston, Leeds, Nottingham Forest and West Brom, but we have had some disappointing results against teams lower down the division
 
“Our Achilles heel has probably been taking points off teams lower down the division and that’s something we need to make sure doesn't happen in these final nine games. It’s such an unpredictable league and to take your eye off the ball at this stage would be foolish, because it’s a division full of talent and every team has its strength.”
 
On playing competitive football again…   
 
“I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve had a spring in my step in the friendlies we’ve had. Everyone has just been looking forward to getting back playing and now plans are in place to make it safe to do so, we’ll be giving it everything.”
 
The full interview with Matt Smith can be viewed below:


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