Matt Smith finally Joins Millwall

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Monday evening saw news broke with the formal announcement of Matt Smith as a Millwall player. It signals the third addition of the summer with Smith following goalkeeper Frank Fielding’s signing late last week; of course Alex Pearce had signed on the dotted line shortly after last seasons completion to be the first of the trio.

The three signings so far, least in my opinion make up the experienced players in the squad. With the likes of Tony Craig and Steve Morison departing in recent seasons, we are now seeing a transformation of players that Neil Harris will turn to when requiring a big performance when results are not quite going our way.

I’m by no means a mind reader and couldn’t possibly begin to tell you the exact thought process behind the three signings so far this summer. However, hopefully now with one or two match winners joining up in the coming weeks we wont be far away from what Harris wants to see from his Millwall side next season. I’m talking about your Jamal Lowe’s and Kieffer Moore’s, players who have impressed the division below and will be eager to come in and make it count in The Championship should the chance be offered to them.

If you happen to be unfamiliar with our new number 10 and his journey up until now, Smith’s arrival brings another element to our front line, especially considering his height of 6 feet 6 inches. Indeed with the departure of Morison in the early summer and the supposed departure of Tom Elliott pending, Smith will certainly be our new go to player when looking to play a direct style of play.

Joining up from London rivals QPR, the 30 year old target man brings a wealth of Championship experience with nearly 200 games at this level over the course of the last seven years. A former Leeds United and Fulham player too, Smith has actually been a Millwall target for as long as Ian Holloway’s stint in charge at The Den. Link here for reference should you be interested!

So we’ve finally got our man as the saying goes, but what can we expect from Smith? Well with 21 goals in 94 appearances at Loftus Road, it doesn’t sound like the most prolific of signings however its worth noting Smith was sparingly used in the last two seasons at QPR. In fact, of the 94 league appearances 55 were from the subs bench, therefore perhaps statistics such as goals to game ratio don’t quite work in the forwards favour.

If you scroll further back to Smith’s first season at Elland Road with Leeds, the forward actually netted 12 goals in 39 appearances in his first season in The Championship. Used as a key part of their team at the time, he was quickly a fan favourite at Leeds with many of their fans sad to see him leave after he joined Fulham. Joining a club such as Millwall now, who have always taken to a front two partnership with a little and large duo, the prospect of seeing Smith and Tom Bradshaw line up together in pre-season leaves me more than hopeful!

Despite some saying we should’ve moved away from Smith when we failed to sign him in seasons gone by, I believe we’ve got a top addition joining who betters our front line when comparing the impact Morison and Elliott had last season. Hopefully with a full pre-season together we could also see Bradshaw and Smith hit it off together and strike up a front two partnership that we as a club have always relied on.

Three signings so far Harris, go and get us some more please..!

Matt Smith finally Joins Millwall

All the best, Lee Gregory!

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It was the worst kept secret in our Millwall world, however this week we finally saw forward Lee Gregory complete his move to join up with Nathan Jones and co. at Stoke City. Ending what was a five year stay in SE16, it now brings an end of an era, with not only Gregory leaving; we also last week said goodbye to Steve Morison.

With both Morison and Gregory 3rd and 8th on the all time goalscoring charts for Millwall, no one can take away the efforts the pair put into the club. However, where Morison is leaving and dropping down a division and turning out for Shrewsbury Town next season. Gregory on the other hand will be a competitor in our division with aspirations to make it to the big time and become a Premier League player by next summer.

Turning 31 in August, if you go by the usual career of a footballer it presents probably the last shot of Gregory’s career to have a serious impact at the higher level of English Football. No on can begrudge Gregory the chance of making something of a success at Stoke, especially considering when you fully digest his own journey whilst with us at The Den.

Joining from Halifax Town in 2014 under then manager Ian Holloway, for the first time in what seemed for years at Millwall, we finally spent money on a number nine striker who we hoped would bag goals and allow us to compete in The Championship. Starting the season with wins against Leeds and away at Fulham, optimism was high but little did we know at the time we would ultimately get relegated to League One come season end. Ian Holloway promised us a striker we would identify with, and even compared Gregory to strikers of the past who had successes for the club, pressure was there from the start.

Gregory finished the season with nine goals in 39 league appearances, in what was his first season as a fully fledged pro, it can and should be looked back at as a success for the striker. However, given the performance of the club that season, even I myself at times scapegoated Gregory, with a handful of high profile misses in games we needed an impact most. I still remember that sitter away to Rotherham only for the home side to score literally seconds later at the other end!

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Gregory obviously wasn’t to blame for us going down that season, but the silver lining from that dreadful year was the appointment of our own legendary club number nine, and still manager now Neil Harris. Immediately playing up Gregory and putting his full faith in the forward, Harris seemed to have his own target of making Gregory his main man. Under Holloway, Gregory often played as a lone striker, however immediately whilst in caretaker charge Harris put this right with offering Gregory a strike partner, and performances improved with Gregory ending the last home game of the season with a hat-trick against Derby County.

Albeit a division lower the following season, 2015-16 brought Gregory’s most prolific season for the club with 27 goals, followed by tallies of 18, 10 and 13 the season just gone now. Goals are obviously the the fundamental thing strikers are judged on, however what makes Gregory a name we will remember for a while yet is his determination and work rate at the front of the pack.

Yes, you could argue Steve Morison was an important factor in the partnership between the pair, but the development of Gregory whilst with us was highlighted most last season. Playing the majority of the second half of the season as a lone striker and still adding goals, it highlights how much Gregory had worked on improving his own game, which led to him becoming the valuable cog in the side we all noticed.

Gregory was a presence in the side we will really miss next season and with Tom Bradshaw returning this summer from his injury, I truly hope we have a ready made replacement for Gregory already. Winning player of the season before leaving this summer highlighted what a fan favourite Gregory had become, but also showed the journey he went on to win us over as a fanbase. I don’t think you will find a single Lions fan who wouldn’t wish Gregory the best of luck, aside from of course two fixtures in the coming season against us.

All the best, Lee Gregory!

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All the best, Lee Gregory!

Rolling the dice could be the masterstroke we need…

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Ahead of what promises to be a summer and pre-season of mass turnover in SE16, the underlying feeling when leaving the 2018/2019 last month was a sense of relief. Despite finishing under the so called magic target of 50 points, we managed at the expense of three worse teams survive in The Championship.

For the first time since probably handing Neil Harris the job four summers ago, we again have differing views as a fanbase as to whether we have the right man in charge to take the club forward. No one doubts or plays down the achievement’s of Harris and co, however would the club perhaps benefit from a change of direction?

We currently have 16 contracted senior players at the club; including recent addition Alex Pearce who put pen to paper and extend his stay at The Den beyond his loan expiry date. This number is however slightly inflated, with both Fred Onyedinma and Tom Elliott offered out to clubs should anyone be interested. Not to mention the forgotten half a million pound man Jiri Skalak, who only made four starts the entire campaign just gone. Take away these three and you’re left with a squad of 13 players…

Mahlon Romeo, Shaun Hutchinson, Alex Pearce – Contract signed, Jake Cooper, Murray Wallace, James Meredith, Jed Wallace, Jiri Skalak, Shane Ferguson, Aiden O’Brien, Shaun Williams, Ryan Leonard, Ben Thompson, Tom Bradshaw, Tom Elliott and Fred Onyedinma are the only contracted senior players at the club.

Whilst alarm bells are ringing amongst supporters and rightly so with pre-season already only around the corner. I, perhaps somehow liken to the approach to rolling the dice. Taking risks that could backfire, however could also bring huge amounts of success. At this level you need a different approach to compete and this could hopefully bring that turn we need.

Some might call it delusion, but with key personnel such as Steve Morison and Lee Gregory departing the club, a duo who had huge success for us. The door is now open to either a newcomer or someone already within the club to ‘grab the shirt’ and make an impact. Agreed, no one has joined aside from Alex Pearce at the time of writing this, but Harris’ knowledge and success at the club the last four years earns the right to be afforded the benefit of doubt.

After overseeing a clear out in his first pre season in charge, Harris brought in Archer, Ferguson, Morison and Wallace the following season, three players who went on to contribute a huge amount the following seasons. We also got a rejuvenated Gregory working under Harris and enjoying his football, could there be a member of the current squad now who is out of favour but go on to prove us all wrong?

Supporters want to see a side who crosses the white line at The Den and give their all for the club who pay their wages. Given that we are now in the second division of the English pyramid, the expectancy is hyped and we not only want passion and commitment but also a bit of quality to come with it. Players already at the club such as Romeo, Cooper, Wallace and Thompson already offer the excitement factor, now we just need the club to back the manager at the helm and see what returns he gives us.

Rolling the dice could be the masterstroke we need… Whats the alternative to that?!

Rolling the dice could be the masterstroke we need…

Four Cup Finals To Play…

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Tomorrow Millwall travel to Bramall Lane, home of Sheffield United as The Lions look to extend their unbeaten run to seventeen league games unbeaten. Backed by nearly 2,000 fans in a sold out allocation, it kicks off the first of four cup finals left to play against teams challenging for promotion this season.

Almost feels like the play-off’s before the actual play-offs, with the teams at the top scheduled to play against each other in the final four games of the season. I can’t remember a climax to the season we have coming up in years gone by. Oddly I feel to have these games are the best set of fixtures we could’ve had, these “big” clubs are expected to beat a club like Millwall, and the home fans on Saturday will be turning up expecting the home side get the win.

The Blades currently occupy 9th place in the league standings and sit three points behind us in what has to go down as a real six-pointer clash. If Millwall were to get the win on Saturday and put six points between us and Sheffield United, it would take a big swing in fortunes in the remaining fixtures for The Blades to catch us with the amount of games left. Pressure is firmly on the opposition going into the weekend.

Albeit we had a poor start to the season whilst The Blades ran off with the early season pace runners, to have both clubs challenging for promotion is real credit to both Neil Harris and Chris Wilder. Considering both sides were only just promoted to the division last summer, it demonstrates the reward of promotion and what momentum you can gather. In Wilder Sheffield United have a manager very similar to Harris, who can relate to the fans and is considered “one of their own” having played for the club in two different spells; again very similar to Harris at The Den.

Recent form has been a mixed bag for the home side, with nine points earned in their last six league games, but their win in midweek against fellow play-off chasers Middlesbrough reminds us of what their capable of on their day, especially whilst at home. Whilst we receive praise for our home form this season, Sheffield United have accumulated the same amount of points at home this season as The Lions.

The midweek clash saw Lee Evans grab two goals from midfield, with one strike from range highlighting the threat their midfielders possess. David Brooks is the hyped youngster who hit the ground running in the early stages of the season, but looks to have returned to form recently and will be another to look out for during Saturday’s clash. Also not forgetting experienced forward Leon Clarke, a football league striker I’m sure many of us all already know much about.

Enough of the home side, lets focus on ourselves ahead of another big clash. I anticipate Steve Morison coming back into the side in place of goalscorer Tom Elliott, which would probably be the only change Harris will elect to make. The team truly does pick itself, especially when on a run of sixteen without defeat.

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Destiny is firmly in our hands, win our remaining games and we wont be caught, of course easier said then done. However, looking at tomorrow the game is a must win for the home side, and I believe this will favour us as a side who looks to hit the opposition on the break. Whilst it’s not a must win for us just yet, it’s certainly considered to me a must not lose.

COME ON WALL

 

Four Cup Finals To Play…

Sixteen Unbeaten

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Millwall are now 16(SIXTEEN) games unbeaten after running out 2-0 winners at The Macron Stadium, defeating struggling Bolton Wanderers with ease. In a game where The Lions were in control for the majority of the tie, goals arrived through target-man Tom Elliott and loan signing Ben Marshall.

With Marshall also laying on the assist for Elliott’s goal; an in swinging cross into the box from deep. It was a man of the match performance from the wide man who provided the quality in a match begging for a touch of class. Zapped of confidence the home side had the early possession, but on the break through the likes of Lee Gregory and Jed Wallace we were a constant threat.

The best of the two goals was Marshall’s second half strike. Mahlon Romeo of all players the architect, running almost 80 yards before squaring to Marshall who’s finish left Alnwick in goal no chance and put the game firmly to bed.

Since arriving on loan from Wolves, Marshall has now contributed three goals and five assists in 12 appearances for the club. With form in the last five games picking up immensely, I sure hope we have some sort of a clause in place with a figure already agreed should we choose to sign the player. Every good performance always adds a few quid to a loan players price tag…

The loanee is yet to be on the loosing side for Millwall this season, whilst bringing immense quality Marshall has made the position on the left side his own. Despite not being a natural left midfielder on arrival and considered the modern day number 10 type of player, credit deservedly is due to Harris and the recruitment team for identifying Marshall as a valid option for our side.

Keeping the returning Aiden O’Brien out of the starting XI is not an easy task. However Marshall has provided a creative outlet we desperately required on the left flank. At times over relying on the direct running Jed Wallace, we now have constant threats on both side of the pitch. Whilst O’Brien is a goal poacher, you often find O’Brien lurking at the back post and providing the final touch, instead Marshall is turning up at the back stick but also laying on a load of chances for our forwards to finish.

For the second time in 12 games manager Neil Harris opted to make one change to the side, with Elliott replacing Steve Morison in the starting XI much like our trip to Hull a month ago. Grabbing a goal for himself Elliott proved what he has to offer at the club, a handful in the opposition box the forward was also impressive in defensive set pieces.

Whilst competing with Morison for his place in the team means chances come at a premium, to have the luxury of Elliott as a squad option and have him make an impact and grab a goal will please Harris. Others who don’t get a look in at the moment include the likes of Conor McLaughlin, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Shane Ferguson, Ben Thompson and even the experienced Jason Shackell.

With competition for places brings that extra percentage of performance from players and it is clearly a massive contributing factor to our unbeaten run. We now find ourselves… We now find ourselves… Who am I hiding my excitement from… WE’RE IN THE PLAY-OFF PLACES WITH FOUR GAMES TO PLAY! I truly cannot believe the performances we are being provided with since the turn of the year, the players are rewarding the fans and the fans are playing their part in their support to.

Premier League football is only a dream I can’t even begin to let myself realise just yet, however to be this close with four games left in the season is an absolute credit to the work of Neil Harris and co. Not only is he a club legend, but we now have a squad in front of us on a weekly basis that understand what it means to represent the club and what their fans stand for. On a near zero budget too, competing with clubs who can splash cash for fun.

Super Neil.

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Sixteen Unbeaten

Enjoy The Run-In… We Have Nothing To Lose

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Five to play and the climax of The Championship is near, with Millwall sitting comfortably in 7th with one point separating us and the Play-Off places for Premier League football. In a season where the priority was survival and getting to 50 points as soon as possible, even the ambitious fans amongst us wouldn’t have dreamt of the run we currently are on with the club now chasing down the top six in the division.

Saturday saw The Lions dispose of early season pace runners Bristol City in front of another capacity crowd at The Den. With the atmosphere probably the greatest of the season so far, the players turned up once more with Jed Wallace and Steve Morison grabbing a goal each as we ran out 2-0 winners. Wallace in-particular starring throughout with his direct running causing the Bristol City defence numerous problems, the winger provided a goal of the season candidate too with his curling effort from the edge of the box leaving Frank Fielding in goal no chance.

In the first of five “six-pointer” ties where we take on the majority of teams in and around us chasing the top six, Neil Harris couldn’t hide his praise for the team. Limiting Bristol City to no shots within our 18 yard box, Jordan Archer in goal had nothing to do in a game where the out of form visitors failed to register a single shot on target. It’s a true credit to how far the team has come since the turn of the year, unbeaten in 15 league games (yes, FIFTEEN!) managing to win 10, aside from Fulham we are the form team in the division.

The phrase “overachieving” is over-used when a club such as ours does well in any competition. However, considering the financial power a lot of the clubs in and around us have in The Championship, plus sides such as Sunderland on the verge of double relegation to the third tier, Neil Harris and co. deserve immense amount of credit for the job done since his appointment three years ago now. The strategy is clear, the style of play suits the club, and more importantly the whole fan base is behind every decision the club makes.

Midway through the second half on Saturday, the whole ground was in unison whilst blurting out The Super Neil Harris chant. Despite already being considered a club legend for his efforts as a player, I don’t think even Neil Harris would’ve dreamt of the position we currently find ourselves in at the moment. With five to play fate is firmly in our own hands, easier said than done but win our last five and no matter how other teams get on we land up in the end of season shootout for promotion.

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Bolton, Sheffield United, Fulham, Middlesbrough and Aston Villa make up our last five fixtures. Last June on fixture release day I had Aston Villa at home on the last day of the season down as a game where both teams would need the win for differing reasons, with the likelihood we’d be languishing at the bottom needing a win for survival. Now we have these big teams coming up in and around us I couldn’t think of a better set of fixtures to have.

Bolton tomorrow night could prove to be the toughest test of the lot. Having lost their last three and Barnsley beneath them winning on Saturday with a game extra to play, Bolton have almost been clawed back into the relegation dog fight. Pressure will be on Millwall to turn up and win the tie and we go in as the favourites. Having said that, based on recent form being the favourite is something we’ve been for the majority of recent games. When we come up against the likes of Fulham and Aston Villa, teams with a huge financial backing compared to ourselves the pressure is lifted as we take on our familiar underdog tag we thrive on.

I guess now we’re in the position we find ourselves in, the team are full of confidence and fully enjoying their football. Who knows, we might actually end up in the top six and have another day at Wembley… Regardless of the outcome of the remaining five games, what I can say for certain, it has been one of the best seasons following the club.

Enjoy the run-in… We have nothing to lose.

 

Enjoy The Run-In… We Have Nothing To Lose

SCOUT REPORT – MIDDLESBROUGH

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Saturday we welcome former Premier League side Middlesbrough to SE16, with Neil Harris and co. keen to build on our last two performances. A draw away to Villa backing up a superb win over Sheffield United the week previous, The Lions’ tail is firmly up as we look to kick on during the Christmas fixtures.

In Middlesbrough, we have another spending club who are keen to restore their Premier League status. This is evident with big money signings arriving in the summer, along with the appointment of former Swansea and Leeds manager Gary Monk.

The visitors spent massively in the summer, with players such as Britt Assombalonga, Johnny Howson, Darren Randolph and Cyrus Christie joining for large fees. There’s an evident commitment to Gary Monk and faith he will get it right and put the club back on the scene.

Expectations were immediately high for the club; however they currently find themselves outside the play-off places occupying 8th in the league standings. Results have been inconsistent, with the lack of a real run of victories so far this season.

Recent form has also been a mixed bag for Boro, picking up three victories but equally losing the same amount in their last six games. Form away from The Riverside has been also a struggle, with only three victories arriving whilst on their travels.

Defeats in recent weeks to Leeds, Derby and Bristol City have proved costly, with a gap now forming to the top six in the division. There seems to be a trend of beating the teams below their league standing, however failing to beat the teams above currently occupying the play-off places.

Last time out Middlesbrough picked up a valuable win at home to fellow play-off hopefuls Ipswich Town; the home side running out 2-0 winners at the weekend. Goals arrived via previous club loanee and now permanent signing Patrick Bamford and attacker Martin Braithwaite.

Lining up with two forwards and taking the game to the opposition they were worthy winners, whether they fancy matching up to us away from home though remains to be seen.

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Middlesbrough team on the left – Last time out against Ipswich during their 2-0 victory

With the inconsistent run of form, the visitors will be keen to put together a decent run of results. Over Christmas a positive run of form can mould your season in this division, Middlesbrough will be no different, though I’m positive they wouldn’t pick to play us after our last couple of games.

Players to look out for will be familiar faces if you’ve paid attention to The Championship in recent seasons. Additions of Howson and Assombalonga highlight their summer recruitment plan of attaining players who know their way around the division. Assombalonga already on 11 goals this season highlight’s why they’ve paid the fee to bring him up north.

Elsewhere on the park in defence captain Ben Gibson received recognition for his performances last season whilst in the Premier League, culminating in a senior call up to the England squad back in March. Touted with a move to clubs like Chelsea throughout the summer, you’d hope the likes of Lee Gregory and Steve Morison are relishing the challenge when Saturday arrives. Ex West Ham Stewart Downing and Darren Randolph will receive warm welcomes to The Den, but also highlight the amount of players the visitors have at their disposal.

So how are we going to win on Saturday? Well, with only 27 goals scored so far this season, and 11 coming through forward Britt Assombalonga the plan starts with keeping him quiet. Defensively they’ve conceded 20, less than one a game but highlights if you keep their striker quiet you’ve got every chance of walking away with the win.

Excited for Saturday? I certainly am…

SCOUT REPORT – MIDDLESBROUGH