RYAN Leonard says Millwall’s training sessions this season are “no holds barred” – but insists the players are “mates” who all want the best for each other.
The Lions play first-team against second-team games at Calmont Road, with boss Neil Harris urging more intensity and competitiveness on the training ground this season.
The results have been evident on match-days. Millwall are unbeaten at home where they haven’t conceded a goal from play in three games.
They also got draws at West Brom and Middlesbrough, their only defeat coming at Fulham.
“This year we want to put things right that we didn’t do last year. Before the Fulham game we would have taken seven points from three games, every Millwall fan and everyone involved at the club would have.
“We had a bit of a reality check against Fulham but to bounce back the way we did was a good sign. We can go into the international break and have a bit of a rest. It’s been a really tough month but it’s good that we’ve got a competitive squad this year, the gaffer has put together a group that are chomping at the bit before every game.
“He’s been able to change the team up as well and more and more it feels like a positive start to the season.
“All over the pitch now we’ve got really good strength in depth, in training we do eleven v eleven and you look at the team not playing and you think most of them could be in the starting side.
“Not just forwards, but we’ve got good depth in defence and midfield. Aiden [O’Brien] can play up top, Jon Dadi [Bodvarsson] hasn’t yet got the game time he would have wanted, and he’s raring to go as well.
“The recruitment that the club has done this summer has been brilliant and in the long run over the course of the season, playing maybe 50 games in all competitions, it’s going to be massive for us to have a good squad.
“We’ve got a really good tight-knit group and it shows around the training ground and on the pitch. That will be a massive help for us.”
Leonard has more competition in midfield this season, with Jayson Molumby set to push for a starting spot after the international break.
“Jays is a good player, he’s technically a very good footballer,” Leonard said. “He’s at Brighton for a reason, they obviously like him. It’s good for us, we’ve got four midfielders now that can change and play in any game. Going into training sessions it’s competitive, there’s no holds barred, everyone wants to play.
“We’ve got a good connection among the lads. Everyone wants everyone to do well, which is nice, and then people on the pitch want to do their best. It’s all positive signs and if we can carry that on then great.”
Millwall lost just that one league game in August, 4-0 away at Fulham when the hosts posted record possession and passing stats for a Championship side since Opta started recording such numbers in 2013-14.
The Lions bounced back in the next game when they drew 1-1 at Middlesbrough.
Leonard believes that response showed their character after their Craven Cottage mauling.
“I think [Fulham] were one of the best teams I’ve ever played against,” Leonard said. “I’ve played against a few top-flight teams in the cup and in friendlies but, for me, that performance was one of the most difficult I’ve faced in my career.
“Getting beat 4-0 was very disappointing, we were all a bit gutted, but we’re not going to come across a performance like that every week. We’re a good side, we know that, we can pass the ball, we can play direct when we need to. We need to concentrate on ourselves and we put that defeat to bed after the game.
“There were a few words spoken and we weren’t happy with how we played. Everything Fulham did seemed to work out perfectly and that shows that every team you play at this level that can happen.
“We all said on the Thursday morning when we got together we were happy we had a game so close. If we’d had to wait a week it would probably have lingered too long.
“It wasn’t just the result going away to Boro, the performance put a lot of things right that we didn’t do at Fulham. That was the most pleasing thing rather than the result.
“The gaffer said we needed a reaction and I think the performance showed that we did get one.”
The game at The Riverside saw Millwall’s record signing Leonard do battle with their record sale, George Saville.
Leonard said: “We were pretty much up against each other, there were a few headers and a few 50-50s. I’ve played against Sav a few times and we can kind of have a bit of a laugh and chat during the game.”
Millwall returned to training this Wednesday minus their players away on international duty.
But there will be no lack of competition on the training ground among those preparing to play Blackburn, especially in those intra-club matches.
Leonard continued: “You obviously can’t play it like a [league] game which is much more intense. But for me training games are as hard as those games in terms of physically, running hard, competing, you still go in for everything: headers, tackles. But you have to be a little bit careful because you’re playing against your mates, it’s not a league game or a cup game.
“It’s still very competitive and that’s what the gaffer wants this year, he wants everything to be more competitive, he want training to be more intense. You should train as you play and we need to then take that into matches. If we do that we then I know we’ll do well this season.”
Image: Millwall FC