With the start of the 2021/2022 season two months away now, and pre-season training starting towards the end of June, excitement (at least for me) is starting to ramp up ahead of the season opener in August. Perhaps more so due to not attending a single match last season, I find myself excited about the prospect of Gillingham and Ipswich away, in our usual boring July pre-season ties. I might be holding onto false hope, and we might not be able to go games for a little more longer yet for all we know, but let me cling onto that thought, for now at least.
The 2020/2021 Championship season will be one of the seasons I struggle to recall, especially on the pitch. However, with the close season comes the usual player departures, but more importantly for us as fans, the arrival of new playing talent. Looking back on that not so memorable season just gone, finishing 11th place in the grand scheme of things for Millwall is quite a successful year. Securing two back to back top half finishes is impressive considering our usual constant yo-yoing of top half one season and relegation battling in the next. The obvious problem on the pitch from last season though was our lack of goals, scoring only 47 goals in 46 Championship games.
I look back at last summer and remember the same ambitions I feel now, having signed Troy Parrott on-loan from Spurs we all backed the youngster to come in and propel us into the play-off picture. The irony is we find ourselves in more or less the same position as we were in before a ball was kicked last season, and I truly hope we learn from those mistakes from last summer and recruit the right personnel this time around. With new head of recruitment Harvey Bussell now in the job for half a year, and having worked with Gary Rowett previously, I feel the duo plus the club have no excuses going into next season to put the wrongs in the squad right.
Let’s take you through three positions I feel as a fan we have to improve to “kick-on” next season, I’m taking into account that we will likely persevere with the same formation we finished last season with, in a 5-2-3 formation. Despite having its critics for being a more passive style of play to what we want as fans, it can’t be disregarded considering we were languishing above the relegations places back in January before the manager switched to this formation.
Centre forward / #9
Just ten goals came from our crop of strikers last season, including Tom Bradshaw, Matt Smith, Kenneth Zohore, Jon-Dadi Bödvarsson and Spurs loanee Parrott. If you also then throw in Mason Bennett’s six goals, albeit he started the season as a winger you average 2.66 goals per striker for the whole of last season. The missing contribution of a 15-20 goals a season striker is obvious for all to see, and the comments from Rowett towards the end of the season certainly backup the urgency to recruit the right #9 for next campaign.
Jed Wallace again finished the season as leading scorer, out doing his tally from the 2019-20 season by finishing on a career high 11 goals. Playing on the right side of a front three, his contributions in games including from dead ball situations highlight once more how key he is to our side. With only one year left on his existing deal, this will certainly flag up on other clubs radars in our league, and I believe securing that recognised striker for Wallace to play alongside might just put to bed any doubts he might have about extending his stay at The Den.
Its perhaps simplistic to say, but if we had an extra 20 goals on our 47 goal tally for 2020-21, it might’ve just been the difference from a mid-table side to a top six finish. With Bennett finishing the season having scored a few goals from a central position and striking up a strong partnership with top scorer Wallace, there could be some optimism for the same partnership to flourish next season. However, I personally believe Rowett sees Bennett as a left sided attacker in a front three, and having also signed a new contract in May, we hopefully should see even more goals to come from the former Derby player.
Identifying and then signing a #9 in The Championship might be the toughest position of all to get right, but if Rowett and Bussell bring in the right player, it could be that spring board to complete Rowett’s “three year plan” at Millwall.
Next on my list of priorities would be an addition of another central defender, keeping in mind a back five formation being likely with three central defenders playing every week, I feel we need one more player in this position to rival our existing options. With Jake Cooper and Shaun Hutchinson continuing to show their importance to the team, I feel Rowett will be looking for that last part of the jigsaw, by recruiting a central defender to play in the back three between the two current constants.
A player who can get on the ball and set the tempo of play from the back, we might actually find we already have this player in George Evans, a player who arrived in January and went on to start all the remaining game for The Lions. However, with Ryan Woods since leaving and no sign of the club trying to get him back for a third spell in SE16, we might see Evans feature further forward in the midfield pair instead.
With Alex Pearce signing a new contract and extending his stay on reduced terms for another year, and also Murray Wallace showing his versatility to play in the back three and also at left wing back, adding another defender should then allow for the option for the likes of Hayden Muller and Alex Mitchell to go out on loan to further their development as professionals. I feel Rowett had an opportunity to put players like Muller in at the end of the season, especially with not much left to play for in the last couple of games, however he opted against this and perhaps this highlights that some of the youngsters are not quite ready for Championship football.
Last on my list of priorities would be the addition of another option in the attacking midfield / wide areas of the pitch. I praised the likes of Wallace and Bennett above, but with an injury record such as Bennett’s which I hope we’ve seen the back of, we are then leaving ourselves short in these areas of the pitch. The other option we currently have in the wide areas is Connor Mahoney, who has only scored three goals in 52 league appearances since arriving at Millwall in the summer of 2019. A lot of hope and anticipation was put on Mahoney when signed by Neil Harris, but for one reason or another we’ve not seen the best of him over a sustained period of games, and if I’m honest I don’t think we ever will see the best of him at Millwall (hope I’m proved wrong).
At times last season we saw Ben Thompson occupy a position in the front three, despite giving everything for the cause and running himself into the ground in every opportunity in the side, his limitations in this position especially was obvious to see. We also saw the youthful rawness of Tyler Burey in the front three at times, however I feel he is another much like Muller who would benefit from a year of constantly featuring in a starting eleven lower down the league pyramid.
If the rumour-mill is anything to go by, we’ve seen names such as Sam Clucas surface, and this would support the theory that Rowett is looking for a midfielder who can contribute goals, the one time £6-Million signing scored 11 league goals for Stoke in the 2019-20 season, a contribution we’ve not seen at Millwall from midfield since George Saville left. I’m probably too excited for the season considering it’s still two months away, but hopefully Millwall can continue to fuel my excitement and conclude on a couple of signings in the next couple of weeks.