MILLWALL’S new boys this summer have impressed Ryan Leonard – and the midfielder expects the side to be even more of a set-piece force this season.
The Lions defeated Gillingham 2-1 on Sunday, their winner coming when Connor Mahoney’s corner was headed home by Jake Cooper.
Cooper and Matt Smith stand at over 6ft 5ins tall, while Millwall also have the likes of plus-six-footers Alex Pearce, Shaun Hutchinson and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson who will be set-play threats.
Leonard assisted Jiri Skalak for the first with the Czech International firing in a spectacular half-volley.
The players rushed to congratulate Skalak after he had a difficult first season at the club.
“Most of us were celebrating the standard of the goal, to be honest, it was a great strike,” Leonard said. “Obviously pre-season the goals don’t matter and the results don’t really matter but it was good to see. We want him to do really well as we want everyone to do well.
“The gaffer is striving this year for team spirit and that’s an indication of it already. It was nice for him to get the goal.
“Connor has done really well since he’s come in, as have all the new lads, they’ve settled in well. We’re getting to know them as players, they’re getting to know us. It’s not going to gel straightaway, but so far so good, they’ve done really well in pre-season. Hopefully they can take that into Preston.
“We want to peak for the Preston game, that’s the biggest aim for us and the staff. You want to get your fitness levels up, but also your sharpness with the ball, without the ball and in your mind. It takes a little bit of time to get that going again.
“It was a very competitive game and that helped, it didn’t feel like a friendly out there. That’s what we needed, it felt like more of a cup game than a friendly. It was more realistic.
“It was nice to win the game, it’s a good habit to get into.
“We did really well from set-pieces last year and with Smudge [Smith] coming in it can only be a bonus. The only thing is they might get in each other’s way at times!
“We’ve got some great lads up there and great deliveries. Connor’s come in as well, we’ve got Jiri, we’ve got Fergie [Shane Ferguson] with great deliveries. The more goals we get from set-pieces the better.”
Leonard missed Millwall’s recent training camp in Portugal to be with his partner who gave birth to their child. That gave him a chance to train with Kevin Nugent’s Development Squad.
Leonard said: “It’s been brilliant, to be fair. Nuge has looked after me really well, he’s got me into games and training with the young lads and it’s been enjoyable.
“It wasn’t ideal, I wanted to travel but for personal reasons had to stay, which was out of my hands. It was brilliant to train with the young lads and help them a little bit.”
Millwall face La Liga giants Real Sociedad on Saturday after Wednesday’s trip to Leonard’s former club Southend.
“When I saw the fixture I was buzzing, it’s nice to go back there, I’ve still got a lot of friends at the club and behind the scenes,” Leonard added. “It’ll be nice to see a few familiar faces and get some more minutes under my belt.
“[Fitness] is getting there. It’s not 100 per cent yet, which you don’t really want it to be, you want to build it up to that first game.
“We’ve got two more games to go and they’re going to be really tough, especially the one next Saturday.”
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