Gary Alexander doesn’t believe that playing games behind closed doors will derail Millwall’s play-off bid – with the former striker confident that the Lions can still finish in the top-six.
Prior to the suspension of English football due to the Coronavirus outbreak back in early March, Millwall had just produced an outstanding performance to beat Nottingham Forest 3-0 at the City Ground, a result which moved them just two points behind sixth-placed Preston North End.
If the season does eventually resume, all Championship matches will be played without supporters to ensure that clubs continue to keep in line with the Government’s social distancing rules.
It means that Gary Rowett’s men will be deprived of having the advantage of their trusty 12th man behind them at The Den for their remaining home fixtures.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Football League World’s Jake Sanders, Alexander admitted: “I think when you’re chasing a play-off place like that, I think the hunger and the desire is within the players. I have worked with Gary [Rowett] and I know what passion he has and I am sure that he is installing that into the players and he has installed that into the players, just as Neil [Harris] did.
They have got a winning mentality, they know how to win games at home and they know how to win games away. The Den helps us win games, it helps Millwall win games with the crowd – so it will be different, but they have got to adapt quickly and hopefully they can still push for the top-six.
Of course [they can still make the play-offs]. If they can pick up where they left off, obviously it was disappointing the season got stopped when it did, but safety comes first and it is difficult that it got stopped, but they have got to pick up where they left off.
That’s not going to be easy and it’s going to be strange, but then it’s strange for all 22 players that cross that white line.”
Alexander, who is currently earning his stripes in the Non League as manager of Southern Counties East League Premier Division side Glebe, was actually handed his final professional contract by Rowett in January 2014 when the current Lions boss was in charge of Burton Albion.
And despite working with Rowett for less than five months at the Pirelli Stadium, Alexander isn’t surprised by his excellent start to life as Millwall manager.
“I am not surprised, he has a great track record and has managed some big clubs,” he said. “He did unbelievable at Burton, so he has earned his right to manage some of the big clubs that he has managed.
He had his time out, he has taken over at Millwall and has taken over from a team that Neil built – and as every manager would, he has added a few players to what he feels would make the team stronger, and he has probably done that.
They have put themselves in a great position and he will have those players up for it and ready and they will know their expectations and what he wants them to achieve.”
One man that has been particularly impressive since Rowett arrived in late-October, is Jed Wallace. The wide man has contributed to more than 40 per cent of Millwall’s goals this season and has been one of the standout attacking players in this Championship campaign.
Unsurprisingly, Wallace’s scintillating form attracted interest from the Premier League in January – and Alexander hopes that one day Wallace gets an opportunity to rub it with the best.
“For me, it’s not whether you’re good enough, it’s about being given that opportunity,” the ex-frontman said. “If Jed is consistent – and he has been consistent for a few years – then hopefully he gets an opportunity to play in the Premier League.
We have seen it before, players make that step up and they do well and some step up and it’s probably a bridge too far.
Hopefully he gets that opportunity [to play in the Premier League] with Millwall some day. But if he is to go, then you have to wish him well and on you go. It is career changing and life changing to play in the Premier League these days.”
Alexander himself, never got the chance to play in England’s topflight – nor the Championship. And despite making more than 550 league appearances during a playing career that stretched across three decades, one spell stood out from the rest for the well-travelled striker.
Having grown up less than four miles from The Den, Alexander finally got the opportunity to sign for his beloved Millwall in June 2007 after catching the eye of Kenny Jackett whilst playing in League One for Leyton Orient.
But it was hardly a dream start for Alexander, who didn’t find the net until his 23rd outing in Lions colours. But after so many near misses, the moment he’d waited a lifetime for, finally arrived on Boxing Day later that year when he broke his goalscoring duck by netting a hat-trick against Brighton & Hove Albion at The Den.
Alexander would go on to strike 25 times in total for the team that he has supported since he was a boy, and will forever be remembered for scoring one of the greatest goals that Wembley has ever witnessed in the League One play-off final defeat against Scunthorpe United in 2009.
However, it was his final goal in Millwall colours exactly five months later that Alexander regards as his most treasured moment during his three seasons in SE16.
“Most dressing rooms I was fortunate enough to play in had good bunches of lads, so I would hate to say ‘I was more comfortable there or I didn’t like it there,’ said the ex-Lion.
“I spent four-and-a-half years at Leyton Orient, I loved my time up at Hull, but I am a South London boy and an opportunity to play for your local club is something, and you build those relationships with fans, and I’d like to think that I have done enough to earn a good relationship with the fans for the rest of my life.
That was a place where I go more often than not. I go to Millwall more than I go anywhere else, because of the way I feel there and obviously being a South London lad.
That play-off against Scunthorpe goal is something that you can never take away. It would have been nice to score a hat-trick, but it never happened.
Probably my favourite memory would be my goal against Leeds United at The Den in the last minute. I think that was the beginning of the end for me, my heel had gone. I got injured that game and I never really fully recovered from it.
I was told that I would probably have to retire, but I kept working hard, I missed a lot of the following season and didn’t have too many games after that in terms of starts, because of the injury.
I made the play-offs squad at the end of the season, but my favourite moment would have to be the Leeds goal, because that was the day my injuries started and the beginning of the end of my Millwall career.”
Alexander’s son George is already on the cusp of Millwall’s first-team, having notched 14 times for their U23s side this term. And George will no doubt be hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps, who described the feeling of scoring for the club that you support.
He said: “It sends shivers down your spine. I know an awful lot of people that go to Millwall – I grew up in Elephant & Castle, I have grown up with a lot of Millwall fans. Going to watch the team play with my mates from secondary school and then all of a sudden, you’re there watching, it sends shivers through your spine.
It took long enough for me to score, but once I finally did score, my ratio wasn’t that bad when I got off the mark. It’s a special feeling, I loved every time I scored, I loved scoring for Millwall. If you work hard for Millwall fans, they love you, it’s difficult to describe.”