Forgotten man returns to boost Millwall promotion hopes

JIMMY Abou says he is happy to have the “trust” and “confidence” of his manager Neil Harris after playing a key role as Millwall reached another Wembley play-off final.

Abdou, 32, hadn't played for the first team since February 18 before Harris recalled him to the side for the last game of the League One season at Bristol Rovers, a fixture Millwall had to win to finish sixth.

After so long out of the team, with only U23 football to keep up his competitive match sharpness, Abdou was at his energetic best as Millwall dramatically won 4-3 at the Memorial Stadium.

He kept his place for the both legs of the play-off semi-final against Scunthorpe, and was outstanding at Glanford Park as Millwall won 3-2 to set up a meeting with Bradford at Wembley on May 20.

It didn’t look like Abdou would have much of a part to play this season. He had featured just 18 times before the last weekend of the regular League One season. But when Harris felt he needed experience, someone he knew he could rely on to do the unheralded work in midfield, he turned to his former team-mate.

Abdou had almost become a forgotten man as the season went on, and, out of contract in the summer, it seemed like it would all end in an underwhelming goodbye, Millwall’s season over in April and Abdou barely even a bit-part player.

But the last two weeks have given his season a completely new complexion.

“It’s been a tough year for me, not playing all season is hard," Abdou admitted. "But I always worked hard, trained hard, kept fit so that if I was needed I was ready. I got involved and hopefully I will be for the final."

Harris had preferred Ben Thompson alongside Shaun Williams in midfield for the majority of the season, before deciding to bring back the more experienced Abdou as Millwall’s play-off hopes hinged on their result in their last league game.

“The gaffer showed me he still needed me, that I had still had a part to play,” Abdou said. “Bristol was the biggest game of the season. He showed his trust and confidence in me, he believed in me.

“I tried to do my best. There are always nerves, especially after not playing for a long time, but the key is to convert that into something positive, which is always what I try to do.”

The final will be Abdou’s fourth in the play-offs with Millwall. The first was in his first season after joining from Plymouth, but Millwall lost – coincidentally 3-2 to Scunthorpe. Kenny Jackett’s side bounced back to next year, however, to beat Swindon 1-0.

Seven of the expected starting XI on May 20 played in last year’s final against Barnsley. Byron Webster limped out of the side 30 minutes before kick-off, but was in the Yeovil team that defeated Brentford in the 2013 League One decider.

Shaun Hutchinson played in the 2011 Scottish Cup final for Motherwell against Celtic, leaving only Mahlon Romeo – banned last year – and Jed Wallace as the only two that haven’t experienced a big final occasion.

“We have the experience, we’ve been there before,” Abdou insisted. “There is no surprise element now, we know what it’s all about. That’s especially important for the younger players who had never played in a final before last season.

“We lost to Scunthorpe in 2009 and managed to get back. We knew then that 2010 was our time, and we’re hoping that’s what will happen again this season.

“It’s just another game. Wembley is special, yes, with the emotion of the crowd, the pitch is huge. There are so many factors that you have to control.

“We’re on a high now, the last couple of games were like cup finals. We showed the strong character we have in our squad.”

Abdou will be 33 before the start of next season and has still to sign a new deal with the club he has been with for nine years.

But he insists he is enjoying it more the older he gets, realising he may not have many more opportunities like the one that awaits him on Saturday week.

“It’s harder to judge at the moment because we don’t know how the season will work out,” Abdou said.

“But you see things differently when you’re older, you’re more relaxed and the older you get the more you enjoy it.

“It’s a big motivation. I’d like to go up with Millwall, it would be fantastic.

“I want to concentrate on getting fully fit over the summer and if we get promoted to have a chance to play in the Championship gain.

“It would be a big achievement. It could maybe be my last chance.”

Image: Millwall FC 

John Kelly