JED Wallace said Millwall’s players wanted to reward Neil Harris’ belief in them after the Lions moved out of the relegation zone with a 1-0 Boxing Day win over Reading at The Den.
Wallace scored the only goal of the game from a free-kick as Jose Gomes’ Royals had two players sent off.
It was Millwall’s fifth win in their 24th game of the season as they moved up to 20th in the Championship ahead of the visit of Nottingham Forest on Saturday.
“The gaffer has never changed his belief in us,” Wallace said. “He is the one that signed most of us. That's a big reason why a lot of the players move here and then stay here because you've got a relationship with the manager that in football is very rare. He is a very loyal, loyal man and it's only right that we are loyal back to him and reward him with performances.
“A lot of players this season, myself included, at times haven't performed to the level they should be, and the manager has stuck by them and it's up to us now in the New Year to turn individual performances around and look to push on.
“I think people will see how hard we are working and it's just the final two or three yards – getting close to someone and winning tackles. We are doing everything we can to push ourselves up the table. The difference between us and a lot of other teams down there is the changing room. We have got 25 hard-working blokes that understand what it's like to play for Millwall. We do everything we possibly can to win.”
Wallace believes that after missing the 2-2 draw at Forest in early October through suspension he has been returning to form.
“I have always said, even when I am not playing well – which at times this year I have not – that I will always be involved,” Wallace continued. “I would like to think I’m one of Millwall's most dangerous players, even if I’m not playing at the top of my game. I feel like since I missed that game against Forest I have been back to myself. Playing well and being settled, it always helps, on and off the pitch, and it's only going to help me playing well for Millwall.
“My target was just to get back playing well. I’m someone that the less I think about football the better it seems to go for me. Obviously after signing my contract I have not been thinking about my situation, just getting out there and playing. And that helps.
“For me, I don't really set targets, I just want to play well. Individual targets mean nothing. We finished eighth last season, everyone collectively gets all the praise. Individually I had loads of praise at Portsmouth and we finished 17th. Last year, I had a bit of praise and we finished eighth. I know what I'd rather do and that's collectively be together and as a group get criticism and as a group get praise.
“We want The Den to be right on our side and at times this season we have let ourselves down here with sloppiness. I wouldn't even say bad performances, just sloppiness in a lot of games.”
There was a sense of frustration on Wednesday among home fans that Millwall didn’t build a bigger advantage on the scoreboard after Wallace’s eighth-minute goal was followed a minute later by Tyler Blackett’s sending-off.
Wallace said: “We had to win, regardless of how it happened. We probably made it more difficult than we would have liked. It was a real six-pointer, which isn't really a quote I like to use, but it was a massive victory. We had to win, and we got there in the end.
“But I also had visions of Birmingham where we had 10 men [after Ryan Leonard’s red card] and for the second half we were the better team for a lot of it. It's always hard playing against 10 men. I think the fans, rightly so, probably think ‘that's it now’, but it's not. It's hard because the shackles are off of them, there is no pressure on them, all the pressure is on us. Obviously, we have not had the best run of results anyway. It was a very pressured environment, but luckily we got the win and that's all that matters.”
Wallace’s free-kick was his third goal of the season.
“I think it was a bit far out for Fergie [Shane Ferguson], to be fair,” Wallace said. “His technique is obviously there to be seen, but it was a little bit further. I even said to Fergie I was going to stand it up to the back post. I don't know why, he's my team-mate, I don't know why I would say that to him! I just decided as I was running up last minute to go front post. The ‘keeper gave me a yard and I managed to squeeze it in and, luckily, it's the goal that mattered.
“Forest will be a different type of game, but similar in terms of [they’re a] possession-based team. We need the crowd to be patient with us. We aren't going to change the tactics we’ve had for four years where it has worked, we sit off, absorb pressure and hit teams on the counter-attack.
“We aren't going to throw away four years of unbelievable success under the manager because of an iffy couple of months. We’ve just got to keep believing in what we do. With the crowd on our side at The Den, we are a difficult team to beat.”
Image: Millwall FC