Saturday saw the opening of Millwall’s pre-season campaign with our annual trip to Princes Park, Dartford FC. Now in the Conference South, it was a good opportunity for the first team squad to make their first appearances of the summer, with all senior players each playing 45 minutes.
First Half XI: Tom King; James Brown, Sid Nelson, Shaun Hutchinson, James Meredith; David Worrall, Calum Butcher, George Saville, Aiden O’Brien; Steve Morison, Fred Onyedinma.
Second Half XI: Jordan Archer; Mahlon Romeo, Byron Webster, Paul Rooney(Christian Mbulu on 80 mins), Tony Craig; Jed Wallace, Shaun Williams, Ben Thompson, Kris Twardek; Tom Elliott, Lee Gregory.
There were debuts for Tom Elliott and James Meredith, with familiar faces also returning with George Saville and Jed Wallace also featuring. Connor McLaughlin who joined last week didn’t feature along with fellow International Shane Ferguson; both played a part in Northern Ireland’s games at the start of June.
As mentioned in my preview of the game last week, the result was the least important variable as the match played out to a 1-1 draw, with the hosts 1-up before the break. The less said of their opener the better, with deputy keeper Tom King making a mess of a back pass and the closing down Dartford forward was on hand to tap home.
The second half side had a bit more familiarity and it showed with abundance of chances created. Fortunately, we spared our own blushes and managed to get a goal back thanks to Ben Thompson’s effort on his weaker foot, placing his strike into the bottom corner from just outside the box.
So with the first game of pre-season out of the way, here’s five talking points from the weekend’s game:
Fred Onyedinma stays put in SE16
Team news at 12pm brought a pleasant surprise as Fred Onyedinma lined up next to Steve Morison in attack. Having dominated the end of last season and all of the close season, we finally received positive news of Fred committing to the club and agreeing terms for a new deal.
The news will spit opinions however I couldn’t be happier, still only 20 years of age it will be interesting to see what sort of role Neil Harris has planned for Fred this season. Lining up next to Morison at the weekend with Worrall on the right, I believe we will be seeing a lot more of Fred further up the field this season.
4-4-2 remains for now
Everyone enjoys this one online, so let’s talk tactics. Both the first half and second half XI’s were presented in a 4-4-2 formation. Again, the result or performance wasn’t essential to Harris at the weekend but I feel we can read into this as expecting more of the same next season.
The two XI’s had a bit of contrast with Fred and O’Brien roaming more in the first half up top, compared to the second XI with both Elliott and Gregory providing a more rigid 4-4-2 with both spear heading the attack.
As always a lot will depend on the opposition with what Harris will choose, but with the success we got from 4-4-2 last season I don’t think many will be too bothered if we line up with a 4-4-2 away to Forest first game of the season.
Tom Elliott wins everything
I briefly mentioned Elliott above, however it was very apparent his dominance in the air on Saturday. Albeit against lower league opposition, the forward stood out in his first appearance in a Millwall shirt. Lack of match sharpness was apparent with the ball given away on more than one occasion, but his height advantage certainly stood out.
Partnerships take time to build, so it wasn’t much of a surprise when Gregory might not have been on the end of Elliott’s flick-on’s. Despite Morison providing the toughest competition for the new forward, the potential of Elliott and Gregory up front this season is an exciting option.
Saville and Wallace ooze class
I know it was only a pre-season tie away to a Conference South side, but the performances of Jed Wallace and George Saville were certainly the standouts of the 23 featured players. It weren’t even the showcase of their ability, more so the know how and game management from both, Championship know how comes to mind.
Saville whilst putting himself about on the pitch showed a glimpse of what to expect this season, with also the ability to ‘buy’ free kicks, putting himself between the ball and almost waiting for the challenge. It’s simple stuff, but there is a method to it and not every player can convincingly play like that.
Wallace on the other hand was a constant threat on the right, leaving the Dartford left back in all sort of knots, delivery might not have been as consistent, but the step up in ability compared to Worrall is clear to see.
Calum Butcher’s chances this season
Finally, my last talking point is midfielder Calum Butcher. With Saville arriving in the window I struggle to see Butcher’s place in the squad moving forward this season. With Saville the likely competitor to Ben Thompson, Butchers role in the side is currently doubtful.
Playing next to Saville on Saturday, it was hard to narrow down what Butcher’s role was in the first half, he can’t play the Shaun Williams play maker role as was demonstrated with misplaced pass after another. Maybe I’m being harsh?
Butcher was competing with Thompson for a place in the side last season, and now probably finds himself fourth choice of the current four we have. With Ryan Leonard a long term target for the club also, it wouldn’t surprise me if Butcher would be next out of the door.