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With three games to play, Millwall are just a point outside the Championship top-six and if they beat Birmingham tomorrow, it might be time to start wondering if the Premier League is ready for the Lions.
Millwall have been here before under Gary Rowett but lost their nerve once in touching distance of the play-offs, going down 4-3 to QPR on the penultimate day two years ago.
Rowett admits their form in his first full season was “a bit unexpected” but says the squad now has the mentality to mount a serious play-off push.
“The players believe,” Rowett told Standard Sport ahead of the return to his former club tomorrow. “Once upon a time, maybe they considered themselves a mid-table Championship club.
“Now I believe our performances and the way we go about things are right up there with any club in this division.
“Since I’ve come in, of the teams that have been in the Championship all that time, I’d be surprised if there’s anyone with more points than us.
“We’ve showed our consistency but we’ve got to be ambitious enough to at least try to take that next step.
“No-one wants to be in mid-table or surviving. Everyone wants to be at the top, fighting. And that’s the culture we’re trying to build here.”
For Rowett, there is a balance to be struck between maintaining Millwall’s intimidating reputation and changing widely-held perceptions of the club.
He describes the Den’s atmosphere as a “massive factor” in Millwall’s position - only promoted Fulham have a better home record - but welcomes Pep Guardiola’s praise of their “incredible pitch” after Manchester City used the ground as a training base ahead of last week’s FA Cup semi-final.
“It shows where we are as a club,” Rowett said. “The perception of our club is old-fashioned and people would normally think of the pitch not being great but a big atmosphere. For us to have a top level pitch, which the Premier League champions can train on and be really happy with, shows just one the areas the club has improved. Slowly we can show that some of the things we’re doing are Premier League level.”
Only seven clubs in the Championship, including tomorrow’s opponents, have scored fewer goals than Millwal’s 48 and their play-off push has been cemented by grinding out results, including the 0-0 draw at Blackburn last month when they did not have a single shot.
Rowett concedes they have not scored enough goals but rejects the suggestion that he is first and foremost a pragmatist.
“It’s like Millwall as a club,” Rowett said. “You can put us in a box and put a nice label on it. But as a manager you have a way of playing and you’re always trying to evolve that.
“I’ve never run an expansive, possession-based team. That’s just not what I’ve done. If you look in the Premier League, for every Man City playing lovely football, there’s a Liverpool that runs teams down, a Tottenham that counter-attacks. Every team has nuances.
“Millwall has never been a nice, pretty, lovely football team. There has to be fire and blood and thunder, in a controlled manner. Sat seventh, one point off the play-offs, I don’t think we’re going to change things massively.”
After tomorrow, Millwall host Peterborough before a visit to Bournemouth, who may have already secured promotion, on the final day.
Rowett is not getting carried away but, for all their strides forward in mentality, he is conscious that his squad is “long, long way” from potentially being able to compete in the top-flight.
“It’s one thing having the mindset to try to get to the Premier League,” Rowett said.
“Another question, which I’m not particularly keen to answer, is what does the squad look like to stay in the Premier League.
“It’s a challenge, it’d be nice to have that challenge but we’re a long, long way off that challenge.
“It’s one thing getting into the play-offs but the Premier League is a completely different animal.”