Martin: Millwall stronger – but league higher standard

JOE Martin admits expectations around Millwall are higher this year – but has warned the league will be tougher than it was last season.

Millwall finished fourth in 2015-16 before losing the play-off final to Barnsley, and they are currently third favourites to win the League One title.

Charlton, MK Dons and Bolton, relegated from the Championship, are also short odds to rebound immediately to the second tier.

Of the promoted sides, Oxford United, who knocked Millwall out of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy semi-final last season, and Northampton are tipped to be top-10 contenders.

“There will be more expectation this year, but at the same time it’s a slightly more difficult league this year with the teams that have come down and the ones that have come up,” Martin said.

“But we’ve strengthened in the summer, we lost a couple but have brought a few in. I think we’ve looked good in pre-season so far. Hopefully we keep the injuries down because we’ve got a fairly small squad.

“As long as we’re there or thereabouts towards March, I think we’ll come strong like we did last season.”

As well as more local rivalries to look forward to, Martin will come up against his goalkeeper brother David when Millwall travel to MK Dons on the second Saturday of the season.

The defender believes Karl Robinson’s side will present a significant challenge this season, but points to the fewer miles Millwall have to travel compared with the last campaign as an advantage.

“In League One (MK Dons have) always been there or thereabouts in the play-offs,” Martin said. “Charlton is a big game for us, Bolton have come down with a big budget.

“You’ve teams coming up like Oxford who gave us a good game last year. It’ll be tough but last year we probably did better against the bigger teams so that could suit us.

“There’s less travelling, that’s a big bonus. I think the travelling we did last year was more than anyone, it was crazy, especially with the Tuesday night games.

“It was also after relegation so there was a little bit of a hangover. This year hopefully we’ll hit the ground running. There are a few new faces but we still have the core from last year.”

Martin is not expected to be fit for Saturday’s opening League One clash with Oldham at The Den as he continues to build up his fitness following the tear to his calf muscle in the play-off final.

The former Gillingham defender had just a 10-day holiday this summer, during which he had to to keep up a specific exercise regime devised by Millwall’s medical department to aid his recovery.

He was back at Millwall’s training ground before any of his team-mates and was so eager to be fit for the start of the pre-season friendly programme that he suffered a setback that pushed back a comeback date.

And he hopes the deflating way last season ended will inspire the squad to go one better this season.

“It wasn’t really sinking in, the disappointment is difficult to deal with when it is that raw,” Martin said of the feeling among the squad at Wembley last May. “You watch them celebrate and that makes it worse. It’s still fresh in the memory so hopefully that will drive a few people on.”

Image source ©Millwall FC

John Kelly