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Appleton: Rovers must cope with 'white hot atmosphere' at Millwall
MICHAEL Appleton knows all about the dangers of entering the ‘Lions Den’ and knows his squad will have to keep calm heads if they are to give their long-suffering fans something to cheer.
Rovers travel to Millwall tomorrow in an FA Cup quarter final, with Wembley just 90 minutes away for the winner, and Appleton is expecting a “white hot” atmosphere to be awaiting his side.
The Rovers boss was sent off in his first ever appearance at the Den as a player, in a 1-0 win for Preston back in 1998, and will be urging his players to cope better with the expected intimidating welcome.
Appleton said: “My first appearance at the Den I ended up getting sent off. That was my first sending off, we won the game 1-0 though.
“I remember going into the dressing room and I didn’t know what to do. I phoned my dad and said ‘I've been sent off what do I do?’, he said ‘keep your mouth shut and take it on the chin’. It was for retaliation.
“That is the message I have passed on to the players because we are going into the ‘Lions Den’. They do passionately get behind their team and it is an intimidating atmosphere.
“It is going to be a white hot atmosphere on the day and we have to make sure we are fully committed but we have to make sure we don’t lose our composure. That will be crucial.”With Rovers struggling in the Championship and the club’s supporters having suffered some disappointing times in recent years, Appleton knows how important reaching a Wembley semi-final could be for all concerned.
“I have never had a Wembley experience and I don’t need reminding,” said Appleton. “I have had a couple of play-off semi final defeats. A play-off semi with Preston and one with West Brom.
“You can tell how big the game is by the atmosphere in training today. There is a spring in the step, a steely focus. It is a great opportunity to put the league to bed for a couple of weeks and make sure we are fully focused on Millwall.
“The rewards of getting through the game are that big for both clubs because there are not that many Championship clubs who have reached a Wembley FA Cup semi final.
“To have that opportunity is fantastic. The match is set up to be an absolute humdinger on the back of some poor results and hopefully set up to get a reaction from the players.
“It would be fantastic for everyone concerned, staff, players and more importantly the fans. For us as a team now, hand on heart, to say we can give something back to the fans would mean everything to everyone at the club.”
Manchester United fan Appleton admits facing United at Wembley would be a dream come true for him but insists this tie is about the club as a whole, not individuals.
He said: “Manchester United at Wembley would be what dreams are made of for me personally. But it is not about me, I mean that, it is about getting to the semi finals meaning so much to the club because it has been one of those seasons.
“I am sure the fans would get the sense the football club is going in the right direction. I don’t know if the cup has affected our league form, I’m sure Kenny Jackett would say the same. It looks that way because both sides have gone on similar runs.
“Every manager you speak to says that. I was speaking to Lennie Lawrence and he said ‘every time you go on a cup run your league aspirations will go down the pan’. He said that from his own experiences.
“It is like a vicious circle. Everyone wants to have a cup run but everyone knows the league is your bread and butter.
“But we are where we are and it is what it is. I don’t suppose any players associated with Blackburn and Millwall who would want anything different this weekend.”
Appleton’s selection options are limited due to a string of injuries and Dave Jones, Cameron Stewart and DJ Campbell being cup-tied.
But, when asked if midfielder Danny Murphy would return, after being axed on Tuesday night, the Rovers boss was non committal.
He said: “It is one of them. We have to make sure we get it right, if we feel we need to have that type of midfielder sitting and holding in the middle of the park then that will be the case. It is a conversation needed to have with staff.
“We have two or three different scenarios we have worked on.”