TOM King praised the influence of Tony Craig on a young defence after Millwall ended a run of six games without a win when they overcame Gillingham 2-1 in the EFL Trophy on Tuesday night.
Goalkeeper King, 21, made just his third senior start for Millwall, and was part of an inexperienced back five with James Brown (19), Sid Nelson (20) and Noah Chesmain (18) in front of him in the Lions’ back four.
Brown’s first senior start means nine players who have come through Millwall’s U21s have started first-team games this season. Thirty-one-year-old captain Craig was the oldest member of Neil Harris’ starting XI against the Gills.
King spent most of last season out on loan at Welling and Braintree, but he acknowledged the experience of playing with his young colleagues at underage level helped smooth the transition to competing against a more experience Gillingham team.
He said: “Massive credit to Justin Skinner, the Development Squad we put together last year was exceptional. You look at how well we did, and to add Tony Craig to that mix was a big help to the young boys, especially with Brownie making his debut. So he’s a massive help.
“Sid’s played 20 games in the first team so he’s able to add little bits of experience and I try to add my experiences from last year and this year to the team. We’ve come up playing last year together so it was just natural for us to play like that.”
King took time to find his kicking accuracy against Justin Edinburgh’s side. He said he spends extra time in training trying to improve that aspect of his game with Jordan Archer, Lee Gregory and Steve Morison, who came on at half-time before scoring the late winner.
“There was a bit of confusion early on and I’d kicked a couple out of play trying to hit wide areas,” he admitted. “But obviously when you bring Steve onto the pitch with his quality and his aerial ability it gives me a reference point to hit.
“Normally I drag Lee and Steve out on the training field after training and do some extras. Me and Jordan both get involved and take turns and prepare ourselves mentally and physically for any situations we might find ourselves in – going short, going long, we just have to prepare for everything that’s thrown at us.”
King’s kick-out led to the winning goal, when Calum Butcher found Morison and the striker finished low past Stuart Nelson.
He said his impressive kicking range is a natural physical advantage, and hopes to combine it with accuracy to give Millwall another attacking platform.
“It’s something I’ve had all my life, I’m a big boy, I’ve got long levers so it’s something that comes naturally to me,” King said.
“Sometimes when you hit it it’ll go out of play and that’s because I’m trying to put so much distance on it. But when I can get a mix of both I think it’s something that can really add to the team, it gets us up the pitch and can move us forward like it did for the second goal.”
King also didn’t hide his admiration for the way Morison took his winner.
“Steve does that every day on the training pitch and that’s no exaggeration,” King said. “I know you hear that a lot and it’s a massive cliché in football but I promise you he does that every day on the football pitch.
“He’s a really top-class finisher and he showed it at the end.
“We’re all trying to chip in to help the team to progress and get ourselves out of the sticky patch we’ve found ourselves in the last few games.”
King prevented Gillingham scoring a late equaliser when he used his big frame to narrow the angle and block Jake Hessenthaler’s close-range shot, but he isn’t presuming that means Harris will automatically put him in the side for the last group game against Luton.
“It purely depends on what he’ll pick, what team he thinks is right to face the opposition like he will every week. Nobody’s place is guaranteed.
“I just get ready to play every week and if he picks me I’m ready to go. If he doesn’t then I’ve got to wait for my chance like I did (Tuesday night) and hopefully do the best that I can and impress him.”
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