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…

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

London Derby Requires Wall Performance

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Tomorrow Millwall travel across London to Putney, SW London as we take on Fulham at Craven Cottage. Still winless on the road and a more concerning run with no win in five league games, Neil Harris and his players are going through their biggest test of the season so far.

The perfect timing for a big Wall performance then? Strikers struggling to score and goalkeeping mistakes meaning we’re missing out on valuable points. Might we regret not taking these chances come the season end in May? With 4,000 fans likely to be in that away end at 3pm tomorrow, the players will do well to find any excuse not to be up for this game.

Form across the team has dipped with too many members of the squad lacking confidence to be the hero in our side. Of course injuries and suspension haven’t helped with Byron Webster, Shaun Williams and Jed Wallace all unavailable for tomorrows tie. All three would probably be starting this game if available.

Nonetheless it’s time for players less depended on in recent times to step up and make a contribution to get us out of the run we find ourselves in at the moment. Players such as Fred Onyedinma, who the club invested heavily in over the summer to keep at the club, surely now is the time to provide some return on that investment.

Ryan Tunnicliffe and Shaun Hutchinson return to Craven Cottage for the first time since joining Millwall from Fulham, both of whom are expected to start and will equally want to be on top form to prevent their former employers taking all three points. The latter has been in top form this season and probably our best defender so far this season, however with Tunniciffe we haven’t seen that match winning performance just yet from the midfielder.

Selection debate will continue for the entire season on whether Harris opts for Tom Elliott or Steve Morison. However, with Morison starting from the bench the last two games, I expect Harris has pinpointed this game as a Morison sort of game.

With Lee Gregory still on two goals this season and Morison without a single goal to his name, the onus is on the front pair who caused havoc in League One to up their game and start scoring the all-important goals at this level.

Predicted XI

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Fulham fresh from a 5-4 win away to Sheffield United (yes that was five-four) will be looking themselves to get a run of form to mount a push into play-off contention. The hosts themselves are without a home win in five, with defeat to Bristol City and four draws.

With 17-year-old sensation Ryan Sessegnon helping himself to his first career hat-trick in midweek, and with Tom Cairney slowly returning to form of last season since injury. The home side will be one of the more difficult sides we will come up against on the road this season. Liverpool loanee Sheyi Ojo was also on hand midweek to score two himself, another young player with bags of pace.

Last time we played at Fulham I’m sure we all remember the moment Martyn Woolford scored the only goal of the game and leave us joint top of The Championship under Ian Holloway. Though we all know how that season ended up…

Following suit to our form away from The Den so far this season, I’d be more than happy to take a point from the game tomorrow. However, with that backing in The Putney end lets dream of another successful trip to South West London…

London Derby Requires Wall Performance

Millwall Vs Granada – My Starting XI

Stevenage Millwall George Saville

Tomorrow we take on Spanish side Granada in what will be our final game before we take on Nottingham Forest for our return to The Championship. Having failed to win so far in pre-season and only scoring once away to Dartford, Granada will prove a great test for our final warm up game of the summer.

Fresh from their relegation from Spain’s La Liga, our opposition currently are going through a transition phase with many of their players from last season departing the club. Despite their turmoil on and off the pitch, our friendlies against sides like Granada provide the ideal test for the team, often having to defend without having much of the ball.

Failing to beat Stevenage midweek and losing to Barnet last Saturday, Neil Harris will be determined to have his players put in a performance which sends fans home happy in anticipation for Nottingham next Friday. Usually, the game before the season start will reveal manager’s preferred XI for the season start, with places up for grab it will be interesting to see what side Harris goes for.

Having a website where I share my own opinion on everything Millwall, allow me to preview what I would choose for my XI tomorrow…

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My Starting XI – What would your XI look like?

As per the norm we will start from the back of the field and work our way up, in goal wont surprise many but I think we all expect Jordan Archer to start the season. Albeit not his best season last time out for the club, Archer proved his worth when most required at Wembley back in May, imposing himself and bringing out one of his best performances on the biggest stage.

Still only 24 years of age Archer has already racked up 75 appearance in the league, however is yet to test himself in the second tier of English football. If we manage to get the Jordan Archer who we had two seasons back, bringing consistency in performances then we will have no issues going forward this season. I personally feel we could do with an experienced Championship keeper in the squad who will push Archer, someone like Forde who would step in if also required.

4-4-2 will be the go to for the start of the season; it’s the only formation we’ve used throughout pre-season. So my back four would feature three from Wembley, with James Meredith and Mahlon Romeo as full backs, with Shaun Hutchinson and Byron Webster continuing in central defence.

The noticeable absentee is club captain Tony Craig, with the first of our new signings Meredith taking his place at left back. Signed on a free transfer from Bradford, Meredith has easily been the most consistent left back in League One for the past few seasons, obtaining his services could prove to be one of our best signings this summer.

A modern day full back as the phrase goes, Meredith proved to be a nuisance every time we lined up against Bradford, giving the license to push on and was a constant outlet down the left hand side. Placing O’Brien in front of Meredith, with O’Brien favouring the option of drifting in from the flank you’d then hope to see Meredith take up the role of moving further forward up the flank.

Switching to the right hand side, I’ve kept Romeo in the side owing to his strong finish to the last campaign. Winning the shirt back from then competitor Shaun Cummings, Romeo looked to have gone on and prove his defensive qualities as well as the already known ability getting forward.

Summer signing Conor McLaughlin will inevitably be hot on the heels of Romeo, however due to his later arrival to pre-season owing to International duty on the back end of the last, I feel McLaughlin hasn’t yet done enough to prove his position as first choice right back.

The central pairing has a familiar feel with Webster and Hutchinson continuing in the heart of defence. Mainly owing to a lack of competition for places in this area of the field, the pair seemed to have formed a solid partnership and understand each others play. With Hutchinson’s injury proneness from last season, its crucially important we sign another central defender before the summer window closes at the end of August.

In the middle of the park, I’ve gone for Shaun Williams and the returning George Saville. Williams had arguably his best season as a Millwall player last time out featuring 56 times across all competitions, an ever present, Williams provides the added quality on the ball and fits the bill of what Harris looks for in his position. Saville gets the nod ahead of fan favourite Calum Butcher…  (Said no one)

Saville for me gets the nod ahead of Ben Thompson purely owing to his Championship experience. Despite finding his opportunities limited at Wolves, Saville has still played 50 games across two seasons in the division. With the added know how thanks to his youth career in the Premier Leagues best academy at Chelsea, Saville proves to be another shrewd bit of business. Similar in playing style to Thompson, I feel Saville offers that bit more talent on the ball, and physically able to dominate in midfield.

Dartford Millwall Jed Wallace

On the right side, no surprises with Jed Wallace taking his place in the side. I’m saying this about all of our signings, but I couldn’t be happier with Wallace committing to the club for the next three years. Our main outlet for creativity, Wallace’s directness, speed and talent on the ball instantly makes him one of our most important players. Also keeping Fred out of the side, I’m extremely excited to view the impact I truly believe Wallace with have in the division within our squad.

Another debatable option on the left, but I’ve opted for Aiden O’Brien ahead of Shane Ferguson. As mentioned in my last post, I feel Ferguson will have an increased role this season when needing to be wary of opposition full backs, but at least for tomorrow’s tie, I’d like to see the combination of O’Brien and Meredith down the left.

Finishing last season with 15 goals, O’Brien provides the third forward option when desperately chasing a goal in games. Despite criticism often sent his way, 15 goals from wide midfield does take some doing, now in a higher division, it will be interesting viewing whether O’Brien provides a similar return in The Championship.

Finally, leading the attack I’ve gone for Lee Gregory and play-off hero Steve Morison. Although I anticipate huge competition from summer arrival Tom Elliott to get into the team, having relied heavily on Morison and Gregory the last two seasons, it would be foolish to go with any other front pairing for the season start.

The partnership speaks for itself with 83 goals between the two during our spell in League One across two campaigns. Whether we can expect the same sort of impact now remains to be seen, however with both having points to prove in the division, it offers an opportunity for both to stake a claim.

So that’s my XI I’d like to see, what would your’s look like?

Millwall Vs Granada – My Starting XI

Two Weeks Till The Big Kick Off – Barnet Vs Millwall

Neil Harris pre-season 2017

Saturday will bring forward our second pre-season game away to Barnet in North London. With two weeks to go now until we kick off our league campaign away to Nottingham Forest, preparations are now ramping up for all sides as the excitement of the new season continues to grow.

With the squad spending a week away in Portugal for the annual pre-season camp, tomorrow should hopefully offer an indication of what to expect this season. Dartford was the opener after two weeks of fitness training, whereas now after a week away as a squad together things will start to take shape.

Patterns of play, tactical analysis, Neil Harris has often come out and said the best work of pre-season for his staff is during the camp away from the UK. It offers the chance to not only bring the group closer together, but also allows Harris to monitor the players up close and further his own relationship with the players.

Of course, extra sessions are demanded from the players, so jadedness/fatigue is often an excuse used in pre-season if results don’t go the way anticipated. Whilst again, the result will not matter to Harris tomorrow, the expectation on the players will begin to grow. Performances will start to matter now, with a competitive squad we now have the battle for each position in the first XI, who will make the XI in two weeks time?

We will save the debate for what we all think our best XI will be for the week leading up the season start, however I always look forward to the partnerships the manager chooses in pre-season. Whilst not set in stone and experiments are often carried out to the starting XI, it’s always worth looking into who starts in central midfield, central defence, or who even lines up at full back and on the wing for the left and right sides.

Especially with new signings joining the squad, these are the games where you hope to see partnerships form throughout the side. We already know what worked last season for the majority, however the introduction of new players almost allows for a clean slate for everyone.

With Barnet cementing their place in the fourth tier, they will offer a competitive opposition to the side as we look for our first win of pre-season. We actually played Barnet last season on their home turf in the first round of the League Cup, running out 4-0 winners in probably one of the most dominant performances of our season. Having beaten Oldham 3-0 on the first day then 4-0 at Barnet, I did indeed grow in optimism thinking we’d win League One… Least we went up!

Players still with Barnet include former Lion Curtis Weston, also forwards Jon Akinde and Jamal Campbell-Ryce. Albeit an average League Two team, it should aid and step-up the performances of our players.

Either way… Only two weeks to go now!

Two Weeks Till The Big Kick Off – Barnet Vs Millwall

Dartford vs Millwall – Five Things We Learnt

 

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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.

George Saville - Dartford Millwall

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.

Dartford vs Millwall – Five Things We Learnt

Football Is Back! – Dartford Vs Millwall Preview

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Whether its Dartford away or the always requested pre-season tour, tomorrow we finally have our Saturday’s back with a trip to Princes Park, Dartford. An ever present on the schedule in recent years, Saturday will be the first opportunity to see our squad for the 2017/2018 CHAMPIONSHIP campaign.

Yes, we are finally back where we belong in the second tier of English football, with trips to Nottingham and Bristol only a month away. It’s a far cry to those of Shrewsbury and Port Vale on Tuesday nights which we were treated to last season. It’s safe to say I cannot wait for every single away day next season, and sure I’m not the only one.

The curtain opener of pre-season is always highly anticipated with the opportunity to see how we may attack the start of the season. New signings making their first appearance, younger players from our development team offered the chance to impress, it offers the opportunity for fans to view what manager Neil Harris is looking for this season.

Ultimately, the key to any pre-season is ensuring players don’t get injured, and get the minutes required to ready themselves for the opening day of the league season. Whilst not a priority to win the games, I’m sure Harris will be keen for each player to find their feet early and build on each of their individual performances from the first minute of the first game.

Tomorrow has already been confirmed that two XI’s will each get 45 minutes, with every senior player likely to feature. With a trip to Portugal looming next week for the now annual training camp, avoiding injuries is the only necessity from Saturday’s game.

Personally, I’m really looking forward to seeing our new signings for the first time in a Millwall shirt. We obviously know already about George Saville and Jed Wallace at this club, however the opportunity to see James Meredith, Tom Elliott and Connor McLaughlin is equally exciting.

George Saville and Jed Wallace Signing Image

Each of the three new arrivals were standouts in their sides last season, with all three making enough of an impression when lining up against us last year, albeit in League One. Excitement is always guaranteed when new players join in the close season – I’m truly the worst of anyone when it comes to positivity –and this summer is no different.

Elliott the competition and alternative to Steve Morison, with Harry Smith likely to move out on loan you’d think. McLaughlin an international who featured in the Euros last summer for Northern Ireland. Whilst Meredith the full back at Bradford who is your modern day option and likely to dislodge Tony Craig from the side. Add into the equation Wallace, Saville and the soon to be return of Jake Cooper, surely we’re allowed to be a little excited, right?

Every signing fits the profile our recruitment team looks for, aged early-mid 20’s and determined to prove their worth in The Championship, with most having played in the division at a younger age and unable to stamp their mark completely. The cynical part of fans will question the signing of “average players”, however in our situation this is the only realistic and progressive option we should be pursuing as a club.

Priority is maintaining our league status this season, and anything else on top will be a bonus. Should we achieve our goals this season, you can guarantee each of this summer’s new arrivals would’ve had a key part to play in achieving that outcome, and will only improve as a result.

Back to tomorrow’s game, with good weather likely, hopefully we will see plenty of goals, good performances and importantly no injuries…

Football Is Back! – Dartford Vs Millwall Preview