RYAN Leonard admitted Millwall players felt the pressure on them before their league trip to Birmingham – but the way the side handled it has given the midfielder confidence they can beat the drop.
The Lions went to St Andrew’s in their last league game on the back of four straight league defeats, but Ben Thompson’s brace gave them the three points.
After the FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Brighton, Millwall now just have to focus on avoiding relegation, with nine games left this season.
The win over Birmingham has kept them out of the bottom three.
“I’d say there was probably a little bit of pressure, we knew how big a game it was,” he said. “We’d seen the results the night before and we knew that a few teams have dropped points but they’re not going to continue to drop points. We have to get results ourselves, so we had some pressure going into it.
“When you look back I think we dealt with the pressure really well, we handled it, especially the first half. We defended solidly and hit them on the counter-attack with Thommo scoring two great goals.
“After the game we showed how important it was, how strong the team spirit and togetherness is, how crucial the result was.
“It’s a Millwall thing, we struggled against a team in Bolton that were down near the bottom of the league then we go to Birmingham and win 2-0 against a team going for the play-offs. A lot of people wouldn’t have seen it coming.
“For us as players we’ve never lost hope or belief that we can produce results like that.”
Leonard hailed the impact of Thompson since his return from his loan spell at Portsmouth.
“I’d never met him until he came back but he’s a great lad and very well liked around the changing room,” Leonard continued. “The fans love him as well which is great for him.
"It’s a strange old game, you can go out on loan for six months and come back and he’s got three goals in five games now. Birmingham was a great occasion when he’s got his two goals. The scenes after the game, getting his name sung by the fans, was everything he deserved. He’s been brilliant since he’s come back.
“He’s been a breath of fresh air for everyone and if he continues with that it’s only going to help us as a team.
“It’s nice for the fans to have someone like him there. As players we just go on the pitch and try to perform that we can for the club. For the fans it’s good that they’ve got ‘one of their own’, as they say, in the team.
“All of us will give everything for the football club but they probably rely on him a little bit more to be the main man for them.
“It’s great for them and for Thommo that they’ve got that connection.”
Leonard was handed a new role for Millwall against Blues, anchoring midfield and staying close to his defence to help his side to a clean sheet, and allowing Thompson and Ryan Tunnicliffe to get forward in support of lone striker Lee Gregory.
Leonard said: “I really enjoyed it. To be fair I’ve played there quite a few games, at Southend probably over 100 games. It was a role that the day before the gaffer said he wanted me to play and I said, ‘no problem’.
“I’ll play anywhere, I’ve played right-back here, off the striker. It was a position I really enjoyed, and the two centre-backs helped me massively with communication, as did the goalkeeper.
“It’s a position I’ll enjoy if I’m needed there again.
“The three of us in there worked really well together. We’ve all got different attributes and we can all cover the ground a lot, we’re quite athletic players.
“The two in front of me pushed on a big higher supporting Greggs, picking second balls up and supporting us from there.
“I know Thommo got both of the goals but Tunni did really well also and they both deserve a lot of credit.”
Leonard is a former team-mate of Lions coach Adam Barrett when the two were at Southend.
The midfielder praised the former defender’s impact at the club.
“Ads is a real leader and I think all the staff are, to be fair, Livers [Dave Livermore], the gaffer, Ads, they were all leaders as players,” Leonard continued. “It shows in the changing room whether it’s the gaffer trying to get us going in the changing room or Livers or Ads.
“They all understand how to lead and get people up for games. I’m quite good friends with Ads as well and he can put his arm around me and show me what I need to be doing.
“That’s helped me.
“Everyone goes through a spell in a season when maybe they have two or three bad games and I hit that a couple of weeks ago. I’d like to think I came out the other end of it.
“We’re all human, not everyone is going to play well every single week but it’s about how you respond to it, keep working hard.
“The gaffer brought me back in against Birmingham, I like to think I did well. The main thing was getting three points to try to shoot us away from that drop zone.”
After the game at St Andrew’s the players, management and staff came together to form a huddle to show their unity.
Leonard added: “I think it was the gaffer and Moro [Steve Morison] that were responsible for it, and Moro did a lot of the speaking. He was passionately saying that we know we haven’t been performing well enough but that’s the standard we can set. He said we’ve done way too much, getting promotion out of League One, to allow it to just slip by in one season is not what we need.
“We had a great season last year but the fans deserve another one.
“We’ll be fighting for the games we’ve got left, the fans don’t need to worry about that, we’ll be fighting for every last inch.”
Image: Millwall FC