MATT Smith said it felt like there were 40,000 at The Den on Saturday such was the atmosphere generated by home fans during Millwall’s 1-0 win over Preston in their first Championship game of the season.
The Lions won 1-0 through Jed Wallace’s first-half strike, and afterwards Neil Harris remarked on a “phenomenal atmosphere” that the players also noted in the dressing room.
Smith was given a standing ovation by three stands at The Den when he was substituted for Tom Bradshaw with 12 minutes left.
“Having been on the receiving end quite a few times,” the former QPR and Fulham centre-forward said, “the noise was incredible and for a 20,000-seater stadium, it felt like 40,000.
“They are a real passionate bunch and they just want to see positive football and I think we showed that. Hopefully we can generate that noise week-in, week-out.
“That noise generates energy, any player will tell you it lifts you and spurs you on. That last 10 minutes, stoppage-time especially, it lifts you and gives you that extra one per cent and ultimately the game is about one per cents.
“It was really pleasing, it was a good victory for the boys. I thought to a man we were fantastic and the lads that came off the bench really made an impact as well and showed that mental spirit and determination that you need to in this league. It's a really difficult division.
“It will give the lads that good bit of belief and confidence that you need to kick-start the campaign.
“I think there was a real understanding in the dressing room that this was a new group and will take time to gel, but certainly the early signs are positive and we want to try and stay level-headed. It's not really a time to get too carried away.
“Ultimately it's the opening day. You look at [Saturday], all the favourites more or less lost, so what's important is that we understand what we are capable of and I think we have set a very solid bench-mark there. That's one we want to try and maintain and continue going forward.”
Smith has big boots to fill as he takes over from Steve Morison who had been the Lions’ target man for four seasons, and he was satisfied with his first competitive game in a Millwall shirt.
“I really enjoyed it,” he said, “I thought I had the better of my man, which you have to have in your personal battles over the pitch. When you feel like you have the better of your man and you win your battle, it's pleasing.
“Ultimately, for me, it's about providing a platform for the team to play off and there are going to be tough spells, we certainly rode the storm at times, but that's the nature of the beast, that's the Championship. It's a relentless division, it's physical. I thought we were fantastic and for an opening game, new group, there were plenty of positives.”
Millwall have a new front duo this season, with Aiden O’Brien operating just off Smith up front.
Smith continued: “Aiden is a really good runner. He got in behind a number of times, caused them all sorts of problems, even in the first two minutes when he rolled that ball across goal, someone could have tapped that in. I thought he was brilliant, but I don't think you can really single anyone out, I thought the 11 plus the three [substitutes] were fantastic.
“First-day season nerves are normal, that is part of being human. [A win] settles them and provides a benchmark of what we are capable of. Before the game we talked about the non-negotiables of things that you have to, that aren't up for debate, what you have to turn in on a game day and we delivered them.”
Smith moved from QPR in the summer, and already feels at home.
“It has been an easy integration for me,” he said. “Probably the easiest I have experienced, not sure if that's because I’m a bit older, wiser and I’ve been in the game a while, this is my seventh season in the Championship.
“The lads were very welcoming. There’s been a real air of positivity, I'm not sure if that's because there’s been an overhaul.
“But the vibe I’m getting from within the camp is that the team spirit and the camaraderie is another level to what is was before. So I think the manager has recruited the right characters.
“I can openly say it's a fantastic dressing room to be in, it's a one small, it's a lean one, so we are all going to have to stay fit, for sure.
“But what he has done is recruited the right kind of people –and real leaders.”
— Millwall FC (@MillwallFC) August 5, 2019
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