GARY Rowett said he felt Connor Mahoney was capable of a moment of “magic” – after the winger scored his first Lions goal in the 3-1 win over Luton on New Year’s Day.
Rowett revealed he was thinking about bringing on Jiri Skalak against the Hatters, but opted for Mahoney who added to his goal with an assist for Matt Smith.
Millwall had been poor against Luton and trailed to Sonny Bradley’s first-half goal, but the home side turned it around after the break to go sixth before the later Championship kick-offs.
Another substitute, Tom Bradshaw, brought the Lions level before Mahoney's quality got the Lions' 2020 off to the perfect start.
“I was disappointed with the first half. We took a bit of a gamble with the team in terms of what I felt the game would be,” Rowett said.
“The game was really difficult, it was hard for us to get players in and around Smudge. We saw that quite clearly early on in the game, our quality was quite poor.
“Maybe it was a side issue from the Brentford game when we played with such energy, it was hard to recreate that so soon. You could see very early we struggled to play with any zip about us and we looked really laboured.
“We had a spell towards the end of the first half when we started playing aimlessly, balls going out of play. We needed to change the system.
“We’ve been so good 5-2-3 for a period of time but you’ve got to show flexibility. You could see it needed a change. I had to sacrifice Pearcey. I never like doing that but I think he understood it had to be done for the benefit of the team.
“We needed to get someone nearer to Smudge and Bradders went on and made a real difference for us.
“I said to them at half-time: ‘You’re a goal down, you’ve performed poorly. I don’t really care what the score is in the end, I just want us to go out there and be better and braver.’
“I wanted us to play a bit quicker into forward areas, I felt we were too slow and played it around the back. We started much better in the second half, more intensity and pinned them in and put them under pressure.
“I said to the guys at half-time if we could get the first goal second half we would go on to win the game. I could see if we could get that goal it would back them up and be really difficult for them.
“It was probably the second-best cross of the game from Jed [Wallace], it took us a while to find that quality. Matt Smith of course gets in those positions at the back post and Bradders mops it up for the goal. It was thoroughly deserved for him.
“From that point on it was whether we could get another because we had all the ball, all the control, all the intensity.
“Again we felt like we needed to change it and get someone else on the pitch to give us more creativity. I nearly put Jiri on but I just felt Connor might give us a moment of magic. He’s got that quality.
“It was a fabulous run from him, he fakes to shoot and it opens the space up and he finds the bottom corner. We then looked like we might score again, which was nice, we could put our foot on the gas.
“It was a fabulous ball in from Connor and Smudge doesn’t miss from there, it’s what he was waiting for. That’s why he’s in the team.”
Image: Millwall FC