PREVIEW: Millwall vs. Bristol City

MILLWALL manager Gary Rowett hopes a run of games in the first team can build Mason Bennett's "resilience" to help him be the consistent attacking threat that the Lions need.

Bennett, despite making his debut more than eight years ago aged just 15, had started just 28 league career games before his switch to the Lions.

Last season was Bennett's most consistent run of regular first-team football. The 23-year-old attacker made 38 appearances in all competitions, including starting in Derby's 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa in the Championship play-off final at Wembley.

Rowett feels that his physical make-up, and a number of years of the Rams chopping and changing managers – eleven from Nigel Clough who gave Bennet his debut, through Rowett to current boss Phillip Cocu – has all contributed to the forward's relatively low number of career appearances.

"The way he is he's a very powerful boy, he's so strong. When you're like that at 16, 17 there's an awful lot of pressure on your body at those ages," Rowett, speaking before Bennett started in the 0-0 draw against Birmingham, said.

"Then he's been available for a season and only played seven or eight games maybe due to managers changing. Derby's been a difficult club for stability because there's been a lot of change over that period.

"But certainly for Mason he's got to continue to do the right things. He needs a little bit of fortune to get through a period of games, as he did last season when he played something like 35 games.

"Sometimes it's the stop-start nature of coming into a team, going out, coming in. If you can build that resilience by playing games and being involved all the time, that certainly helps.

"I think a club like ours where if you're fit you're going to play plenty of football might just help him get that continuity.

"The challenge with Mason is how quick do we put him into the start of a game because of course as soon as you start, depending on certain variables, you might have to finish the game.

"That's the challenge and we'll assess it as we go. We're trying to do what's right for Mason and what's right for us, what's right to win a game.

"Sometimes you have to take that risk and not worry too much about the consequences."

The Lions take on Bristol City at The Den this weekend. Lee Johnson's Robins have the third-best away league record this season, and struggled at home where they lost 2-1 to Millwall last December.

City have lost their last two away games, but won their previous three on their travels without conceding.

Rowett continued: "I think they've been a counter-attacking side more so this season and I think when you go away from home that helps.

"We went there earlier in the season and made it difficult for them to play into the positions they wanted. Some teams want space to go and play, some teams are better at manipulating that space themselves.

"Bristol are like a lot of teams in this division, they can perform to a very high level but perhaps their results have been a touch inconsistent at times.

"But they're still in a fabulous position and it'll be a really, really tough game."

Shaun Williams and Ben Thompson are back in training, but neither is likely to feature this weekend. Another midfielder, Ryan Leonard, is a doubt with a hamstring problem.

Possible Millwall starting XI: 4-4-2: Bialkowski; Romeo, Hutchinson, Cooper, M Wallace; J Wallace, Molumby, Woods, Mahoney; Smith, Bennett.

Match odds: Millwall 7/4 Draw 12/5 Bristol City 6/5

Last meeting: Championship (December 10, 2019): Bristol City 1-2 Millwall (O'Dowda 84; J Wallace, 11, Cooper 70).

John Kelly