TOM King is ready to take on the mantle of being Millwall’s first-choice goalkeeper with Jordan Archer set to be out for an unspecified period of time.
King, 21, made his league debut for Millwall this week in the 0-0 draw with Chesterfield as the Lions kept a seventh successive clean sheet.
Archer injured his quad during the 1-0 FA Cup fifth-round win over Leicester City last Saturday and King will start at Oldham this weekend as Millwall attempt to make it 15 games unbeaten.
King made his competitive first-team debut in a League Cup clash against Nottingham Forest last August and was relieved to finally making his league bow for the club.
“It’s another load off,” King said. “To get the debut earlier in the season against Nottingham Forest was good. But you work towards getting a run of consecutive league games. Obviously I’m gutted for Jordan with what’s happened with his quad.
“But I’m ready to step in whenever needed. I think I showed that.
“I’d like to think that I’ve earned my place on Saturday. Obviously it’s going to be more necessity but I’ll be going out for a clean sheet and hopefully bring back all three points.”
King was close to marking his debut with what would have been a remarkable assist after releasing Lee Gregory with a quick clearance, but the striker saw his left-footed shot parried away by Spireites goalkeeper Thorsten Stuckmann.
King joked: “It was close, we had a laugh and I said I had an assist bonus in my contract and he’s let me right down!
“We had a good laugh but nine times out of 10 Gregs puts that in the back of the net, he’s a top-class finisher. It just wasn’t going for us and that pretty much epitomised our night.
“I back him to score and it wouldn’t surprise me if he stuck one in exactly the same against Oldham on Saturday.
“We’re always doing that in training. It’s credit it to him with his movement and finishing, I can only put the ball there. I need the run to be able to find him.”
King, who spent time out on loan at Welling and Braintree last season, was commanding under crosses and his distribution caught the eye on Tuesday night.
He was relieved, though, to see his captain, Tony Craig, make a last-ditch clearance to prevent Chesterfield taking the lead against the run of play.
“He’s been doing that for years” King said. “He’s so experienced and got himself back on the line. He’s there in the right place at the right time nine times out of 10. He’s a top professional and helps all of us young lads out.
“That doesn’t surprise me that he’s there on the line at the right time to save our clean sheet record.”
Millwall have now gone 660 minutes – more than 11 hours if added time at the end of halves is factored in – without conceding a goal.
The Lions were porous earlier in the season, but King believes the recent defensive excellence "is no accident”.
“The back four have been brilliant, no matter what personnel,” King said. “We changed it at Coventry, Mahlon (Romeo) came in as he did (Tuesday night). Whatever back four have come in have been superb for the last 14 games.
“It was just a matter of time, this is no accident, it’s what we worked for and we’re getting our just rewards on the pitch.
“We work day-in, day-out on defensive shape. It’s credit to the boys who analyse the opposition, we just seem to nullify all threats at the minute. If you look at the shots on goal we’ve had against us in recent games it’s been hardly any. I can’t take full credit for that.
“Whatever personnel comes in they’re ready to go, whether it’s Shaun (Hutchinson) or Mahlon or Joe (Martin), TC, whatever centre-half steps in. We’re full of confidence at the moment that we’re going to get a clean sheet and come out the other side with a win.”
It was at the other end of the pitch where Millwall couldn’t excel against Gary Caldwell's side, though King was pleased with the level of performance.
He said: “We never gave up, all the way to the last minute. We had one cleared off the line or the keeper makes a save in the last minute.
“We never give up. That’s the Millwall mentality and it’s good the boys show that. How the ball didn’t end up in the back of the net in the second half is beyond me. We just have to pick ourselves up and go again on Saturday.”
With uncertainty over the nature of Archer’s injury, King could find himself thrust into the biggest occasion of his career next month when Millwall travel to White Hart Lane to take on Tottenham Hotspur in an FA Cup quarter-final.
But that doesn’t faze him.
“We back ourselves against anyone, we would have taken anyone,” King said. “We’ve had three good home draws so it’s about time we have an away one.
“We’ll go there with our shape and the way we play and we back ourselves 100 per cent. We’re not scared of anyone so we’ll go there looking for the win and if it doesn’t come then it doesn’t come.
“We’ll give it everything that we have for the fans.”
Before that there are three games in which to try to cut the nine-point deficit to second place in League One.
Promotion has always been the priority, and King insists the squad are determined to ensure it becomes a reality.
“Our goal from the very first whistle of the season has been to reach automatic promotion and we want to push it all the way to the last minute,” he said.
“If we have to go through the play-offs we back ourselves against anyone there as well. We’re a confident bunch at the minute, we’re playing some great football and I don’t think many teams can live with us as you saw against the three Premier League teams. They couldn’t live with the way we played even when we went down to 10 men.
“Teams don’t want to come to The Den, we know that.
“We’ll pick ourselves up and go again against Oldham.”
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