Millwall secured their first away win of the 2017/18 campaign on Saturday with a battling 4-3 victory over Leeds United and striker Lee Gregory insists that it is a result, and performance, that has been well overdue.
Since returning to the Championship through the League One play-offs last season, the Lions have earned praise from neutrals with an attacking style of football and Gregory believes that the club can now kick on following their first win away from the New Den.
Leeds fought back from 2-0 down with ten men to lead 3-2 at Elland Road, but two goals in the last five minutes ensured maximum points on the road for the first time this season.
In an exclusive interview with Football League World, Gregory, still clearly delighted with the win said: “To be honest, the first couple of minutes when we returned to the dressing room, we were naturally buzzing but once we sat down and dissected the game, we knew we shouldn’t have ever been in that predicament in the first place.
“We were obviously delighted with the result but disappointed with the performance. The manager and the staff had something to say about that and as players we know we shouldn’t have put ourselves in that situation.
“To come out with the win showed exactly the sort of character we have in the dressing room at the moment. It was our first away win of the season so naturally the lads were buzzing”.
Gregory netted his fifth goal of the season in the win in West Yorkshire and given his determined persona, it is a return that he feels should be slightly better.
“I should be on a lot more personally, as my performances are up there with the best I have played in my career. Sadly, I am not quite getting as many goals as I would like to at the moment but then again not everything can always go your way as a striker so you just have to get on with it.
“I was delighted to notch on Saturday and hopefully now I can go on a bit of a run and start scoring a few more for the team.”
Gregory is one of the somewhat short list of players in the professional game who have made a name for themselves after playing a starring role in non-league football and not being nurtured by a glittering academy.
The 29-year-old made a name for himself by netting 82 goals in 129 appearances during a fruitful spell at FC Halifax Town and such prolific form earned him the move to the Football League, although his first foray into the professional game didn’t quite go according to plan after a frustrating time at Mansfield Town.
Gregory said: “I went from Staveley Miners Welfare to sign professional terms at Mansfield Town and that was something I was very happy to take a chance on.
“The manager (David Holdsworth) told me that he would send me out on loan and then hopefully come back and stake a claim for the first team, but it never quite materialised in that way and it became a frustrating period for me.”
“I was really fond of a temporary spell at Halifax and the manager there, Neil Aspin, was very keen to take me, so in the end it was a move that I kind of pushed for on my own accord.”
During his time at The Shay, Gregory spent a period of time strutting his stuff on the same pitch as none other than Jamie Vardy and although his career has gone off on a slightly different path he is delighted for his former team-mate.
“You could see that Jamie was too good for the Conference North, you’d have to be pretty naïve to not recognise that, but for him to go on and achieve what he has in the game is something that nobody could have predicted”, said Gregory.
He continued: “Being around him was just brilliant, he was a cracking lad in the dressing room and he is the sort of bloke who deserves every success that he gets in the game.
“Playing football for us two was just that. We loved getting out there on a Saturday, playing football and scoring goals.”
Gregory has a thing for building up partnerships as a key component of a front two and over the last couple of seasons he and Lions’ legend Steve Morison have developed quite a rapport together.
He said: “Steve is a leader on the pitch. He has the respect of absolutely everyone at Millwall, he’s been there done it all, played in the Premier League and nobody wants to get on the wrong side of him basically.
“He knows what he wants and he knows what he’s good at. On Saturday he was immense and although he left the pitch with three assists he never stopped encouraging the lads throughout.
“He’s a great guy and I have learnt quite a lot from him. It really is a pleasure to be playing up to with him.
In the past the Lions have attracted some unwanted attention on the national front but despite that, their number nine cannot speak highly enough of the football club and speaks as passionate as any fan would do.
“When you say to people that you play for Millwall, the perception is a bit ‘oh bet that’s not very nice is it’, but to be honest once you are in here it’s absolutely brilliant.
“I know that people think they can grasp a perception from the outside in, but once you are in here people can’t do enough to help you and it’s a really good place to be.”, said Gregory.
Like any other player, Gregory harbours determined ambitions to play in the Premier League one day during his career but does admit that whilst he is enjoying his football and playing as high as possible then he will maintain his current level of happiness.
After last season’s promotion from League One, Gregory does actually have another ambition that he would love to tick off during his time with the Lions and he feels it could be achieved under the stewardship of shrewd and assertive boss Neil Harris – a manager who he really cannot speak highly enough of.
He confessed: “I would love to get a promotion from Championship to the Premier League with Millwall, especially considering how good it felt to win promotion from League One last season. I just think that the promotion into the Premier League would feel that little bit sweeter.
“The gaffer’s style is that he wants us to relish playing for each other and he puts that across every single day in training. He wants us to play with lots of enthusiasm, a lot of energy and the players he has signed have added those qualities to the group.
“I think once we get the away form in line with our performances on home soil the sky really is the limit to be honest.
As one of the more level-headed 29-years-old you will be ever likely to meet, Gregory doesn’t really break the stereotype when it comes to what keeps a footballer occupied during his days off.
He said: “My dog Minnie keeps me busy, whilst I love a round of golf too.
“I have to be honest when you say to people that you are a footballer, I think they just presume that it’s a couple of hours a week and that’s all there is to it but to be honest when you are training and playing all the time it’s just great to relax, walk the dog and spend some quality time with the missus.”
For now, Gregory highlights that his primary focus on the rest of the current campaign is kicking on from the Leeds win and finishing as high as possible.
He stated: “The morale has been high in the camp all season and hopefully we can start turning some of the draws in to wins and edge towards the top half of the table.
“We’d have probably taken 15th in the table at January as par for the course. What we now want to do is start making sure that our form on the road becomes as consistent as our results at home and if we do that who knows where we can go.”