Crucial Win Before The Christmas Run-In…

 

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FINALLY, the weekend saw The Lions register a crucial win at home to high flying Sheffield United. Running out 3-1 winners, the timing couldn’t have been better with the Christmas run-in well underway.

Three goals from open play and Lee Gregory getting his first goal in nine games, taking the opening goal superbly in a chance you might not have backed him to finish in recent games. I don’t think Neil Harris would’ve struggled to sleep on Saturday night, a few pints were certainly enjoyed after the game from me anyway!

In a typical Millwall performance, the team dug-in when under pressure from the visitors who dominated the ball as expected. Despite keeping hold of the ball for long periods towards the end of the first half and early stages of the second, I couldn’t recall an occasion where Leon Clarke up front had an opportunity to test Jordan Archer in goal.

Despite the visitors failing to win in their last couple of games, going into the game as mentioned in our last post, we expected a difficult game. However, in games like this at The Den I’d much rather Sheffield United coming to town instead of Shrewsbury Town with a couple hundred fans in The North Stand.

Guaranteed a good away following from the visitors and more home fans likely to be in attendance, the atmosphere was certainly more lively when compared to Hull City on a Tuesday night. I’m sure the players raised their own game for it too, and it was evident from the start.

The opening stages of the game was very much all Millwall, and the breakthrough came on 14 minutes. Lee Gregory converting our breakaway which had started on the right flank with the returning Jed Wallace running at the opposition defence. Wallace has been a missing piece in the jigsaw in recent weeks, with the lack of a player willing to take on the opposition at pace and cause havoc.

Wallace had probably gone off the boil in the games before his suspension, however on the evidence of Saturday’s performance the break clearly done him the world of good. To finish off the move Steve Morison had picked out Gregory, who made no mistake from 10 yards out.

Having had the early stages of the game under control, Sheffield United slowly came back into the game and deserved to level before half time. David Brooks providing what has to go down as a beautiful finish, cushioning his strike into the opposite side of the goal from the edge of the six-yard box. Saturday’s performance certainly flagged up to me why Premier League clubs might be taking a look at the youngster.

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The game could’ve honestly gone either way at half time, and thankfully after riding another wave of pressure early in the second half, we got the opportunity to go ahead again and took the opportunity. Mahlon Romeo grabbing himself his first goal in The Championship in his first start in the division too, sounds similar to a debut of Romeo’s a couple years back at Walsall, no?

With Conor McLaughlin suspended Saturday was Romeo’s first opportunity to put some pressure under the Northern Irish international, and after his performance Saturday I’d be surprised if Harris decides to drop him for Villa away on Saturday. Overlapping as usual down the right hand side, Romeo found himself the furthest forward after Gregory’s sliding tackle on the Sheffield United central defender. With Gregory picking out Romeo, the full back did the rest converting his shot to the far corner past Jamaal Blackman in goal.

Jake Cooper put the game to bed late on with a header at the far post, with Millwall running out 3-1 winners. The second half was on a knifes edge, but what edged it more was the players desire to get the win.

The midfield pairing of George Saville and Ryan Tunnicliffe has coincided with our form taking a dip after Shaun Williams’ injury. However I felt on Saturday the pair got to grips with the Sheffield United three man midfield and contributed massively to our win. With Williams due to return its likely to see Tunnicliffe make way, however I personally felt Saturday was his best performance in a Millwall shirt so far.

Lots and lots of positives, as you’d expect after a win like that! Let’s hope it continues on Saturday away at Villa Park.

Crucial Win Before The Christmas Run-In…

No Win In six, Not Panicking Just Yet…

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Without a win in SIX league games, the pressure is slowly but definitely growing on Millwall to win a game and score some goals. But for two fortuitous goals away to Sunderland thanks to some helpless goalkeeping, The Lions would be without a goal for four games.

With strikers struggling to make an impact and earn valuable points; currently the club top goalscorer is the impressive midfielder George Saville. Steve Morison next to a zero on the goal tally chart, with Lee Gregory and Tom Elliott with only two each themselves. Not something you’d have hoped for at this stage back in August.

With our style of play chances come at a premium at this level when compared to League One, especially away from home. Fail to take your chances when put forward and ultimately you lose games at this level. The level of quality between the two divisions is ever growing.

Top scorers
George Saville tops the scoring charts – Source via whoscored.com

With Sheffield United, Aston Villa, Derby, Wolves, QPR and Norwich to come as we see in the new year, based on the tale of the season so far we’d do well to register three more wins before January.

Fortunately as a club, expectations this season are solely to survive and try to build within our means. You can’t doubt we are competitive in every game we play, with our biggest deficit in a match against Barnsley at home following Shaun Williams and Byron Webster’s injuries.

Defensively we are averaging a goal against a game, which compared to the rest of the division is top half form. Statistically teams which go down tend to average a lot more against. Rotherham and Wigan went down last season scoring only 40 goals. Whilst defensively conceded 57 and 98 goals.

So the problem lies at the top of the pitch with the lack of goals from our forwards. Whilst Morison and Gregory were extremely effective when up against League One opposition, aside from Norwich at home we haven’t had the attacking display we so often relied on whilst in the league below.

Sooner rather than later, along with Jed Wallace returning we should also receive a massive boost with the return of Shaun Williams. Back in full training, though I imagine this weekend may come too soon for the midfielder.

We shouldn’t be panicking just yet, whilst far from ideal in the last six games, we find ourselves in a position in the coming games we thrive on, being the underdog. Majority of up coming games are why we missed The Championship so much. Larger home crowds, better atmosphere and excitement to cause an upset and win.

This all starts with tomorrow at home to Sheffield United, who themselves have been struggling drawing last week at home and losing the game previous. A game we’re expected to let them dominate the ball, however expect pace and aggression in the forward areas with the returning Wallace a key influence.

Questions do need to be answered by players at the top of the park. Can Lee Gregory score goals in The Championship? Much like his first season at the club, the striker struggled to make an immediate impact but quickly put those fears away with two strong seasons in the div below. Now back in The Championsip are we seeing the same story again?

Questions will inevitably get answered, and as positive as I can be lets hope Gregory and Morison fill their boots leading to Christmas.

No Win In six, Not Panicking Just Yet…

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

Summer Signings Will 100% Keep Us Up

Millwall Ipswich O'Brien goal celebration

Three games now into The Championship for Neil Harris and our beloved Millwall, with only a solitary point on the board for our efforts. A 1-0 defeat away to Forest on the opening day of the season, followed by a 1-1 draw with fellow promotion side Bolton, now you can add a 4-3 defeat at home against current top of the league Ipswich Town.

Despite arguably having the better of the chances and creating more, on three occasions now we still find ourselves winless with sides like Bristol City, Norwich and Wolves to come in our next three Championship matches. It’s a harsh learning curve for a team with not much second tier experience, however we’ve got to learn quick and put the wrongs right and get our first three points on the board sharpish.

Last night was a prime example of our season so far, with visitors Ipswich having four shot on target, and all four ending in the back of the net. Before last night we struggled to convert our well worked chances going forward, but scoring three and still suffering defeat leaves no questions of where it went wrong yesterday.

Flying out of the block with a goal after 44 seconds, we allowed Ipswich back into the game within minutes, something you just can’t do in this league with current number one Jordan Archer flapping at a long range shot he really should’ve saved. With goals few and far between before last night, to let Ipswich back into the game like that after going ahead was appalling. Post match comments from Harris after the game makes Archer’s place in the XI far from safe for Bristol City away on Saturday.

I know we’re saying the same after the last three games, but for me we were the better side last night and but for the mistakes which prove costly at this level, we should certainly have at least one win on the board. It has to come good if we keep creating chances the way we have been so far this season, it just has to.

The shining lights in our opening games have been our summer signings, with the likes of Jed Wallace and Tom Elliott impressing in attack, along with George Saville bossing the midfield. A mention should also go to Conor McLaughlin and James Meredith, with the pair fitting into the side and already looking at home.

The squad has competition for places throughout, with ever presents last campaign such as Tony Craig, Ben Thompson and Mahlon Romeo struggling to get a game. Even Fred Onyedinma can’t get a starting place with players like Lee Gregory and Jed Wallace keeping him at bay.

Credit has to go to Neil Harris for bringing these sort of players in, recruitment has been on point and each new player has brought along the squad talent wise drastically. We’ve got height and strength up front with Elliott in attack, bringing down anything in the air and winning everything air bound against central defenders, making it look easy too.

Millwall Ipswich Elliott Goal

Having come on and scored yesterday, Elliott has probably played his way into the XI for Saturday’s game, and it will be interesting viewing to see how Elliott and Gregory cope as a combination up top.

In the middle of the park Saville was again a stand out, sounds weird saying after a 4-3 defeat but it proves how costly this division can be when making mistakes. Saville looks an improved version of all of our midfielders put together, strong in a tackle, quick turn of pace with the ball at feet along with the range of passing required to dictate play.

With Wolves spending plenty on Portuguese imports, its allowed us to take on Saville and Wallace, and both look as eager to prove a point at this level. Both in their low 20’s too with plenty of time to develop and become even better players.

Playing with a 4-4-2 you have extra onus on your wide players to get in the right areas and create for the team, Wallace seems to suit the role down to a tee and relishes being the main outlet down the right. Behind Wallace we also have fellow new signing McLaughlin, much like Meredith we have an assured head in defence who can also offer more in attach.

Signing the two best full backs in League One, both have come in and made their positions their own already. However, once again both have next to no experience in the division, demonstrating the challenges we’ve got of learning as we go along this season and learning from our mistakes.

I’d rather get these mistakes out of the way early doors, the performances going forward have been great and we took our chances yesterday, just had to deal with our worst performance defensively instead.

Either way, roll on Bristol City.

Summer Signings Will 100% Keep Us Up

Millwall Vs Stevenage – Things We Learnt

Millwall Vs Stevenage - Tom Elliott first goal

Last night we kicked off our campaign in The Carabao Cup, as we played hosts to League Two side Stevenage in the first round. With nine changes from the side that started on Friday away to Forest, Neil Harris will be pleased to still get through as we ran out 2-0 winners. Two goals arriving in the second half, both ending in a Tom Elliott header.

Compared to last weekend’s game, last night certainly wasn’t one for those who believe in a passing style of football, as both sides struggled to string together passes early on. In fact, it was probably the visitors who shaded the first half, with Tom King in goal called upon more than his counterpart in goal up the other end.

Thankfully, the performance improved in the second half and thanks to neat build up play to both goals; owing to Fred Onyedinma and Shane Ferguson. Our new target man signing was on hand to convert both opportunities on a great full debut for Elliott.

Unfortunately, last night’s game looks to have come at a cost to Jake Cooper and Lee Gregory, with both hobbling off the pitch and doubtful for Saturdays game at home to Bolton.

Nonetheless, here are a few things we learnt from yesterday’s cup tie…

Tom Elliott is a damn handful for any defender

I mean, you’d expect the above to apply when you’re 6”6 in height and built like a fridge freezer, Tom Elliott’s competitive start will certainly have pleased Neil Harris last night at full time. Throwing himself into absolutely everything, I don’t think the Stevenage central defenders won a single duel when challenged by the target man.

Not only did Elliott prove to be a handful, what was most important was his contributions to the scoresheet, and ultimately deciding the fate of the match on his own. With both crosses into the box in the build up to the goals, you had no doubt Elliott would be on the end of it, and ultimately he was able to convert both too.

With Gregory hobbling off towards the end of the match too, Elliott has certainly played himself into contention for a start on Saturday against Bolton.

Tom King still pushing the number one

With nine changes we also had a change in goal with Tom King earning a first start of the season. Earning a clean sheet it was an all-round solid performance from our number two, and with Harris a couple weeks back citing the option of bringing another keeper in, King has certainly put to bed any potential doubts in the managers head.

Albeit a largely untested game for King, he managed to pull off a couple of saves during crucial moments of the tie, especially in the first half to keep the scores level. With Jordan Archer at blame by some for the Forest goal last week, King provided a timely reminder of his ability to step in and play a part should the number one’s form drop off.

Millwall Vs Stevenage - Ben Thompson

Other fringe players likely to remain fringe players

 Again, nine changes allowed the opportunity for players who didn’t start last Friday to play and a stake a claim. Whilst King, Elliott and Fred impressed others further down the pecking order weren’t so impressive especially during a sloppy opening half.

I don’t think I’ve seen Ben Thompson play as bad a game as he did yesterday, mistiming a few tackles and also giving the ball away too easily when attempting a simple enough pass. Perhaps Thompson is one of those players who needs a run of games to build form, however with the competition for places especially in the middle of the park you expect individuals on the fringes to impress.

Elsewhere the likes of Tony Craig, Mahlon Romeo and David Worrall were also distinctly average. Maybe average performances is okay if you’re in the first XI, but again when offered the chance to play your way into a team that lost the game before, you’d expect to see a little more on offer.

Lack of creativity with key players not featuring

 The above neatly brings me onto a further point, with the likes of Jed Wallace, Shaun Williams and Steve Morison in reserve on the bench, the onus was on others to bring the creativity.

Following on from our last match where we created un-told amount of chances and were unfortunate to not score 4 or 5 – even though it could’ve been more – last night was flat creatively. I’ve mentioned in previous posts, we rely heavily on the performances of Morison and Wallace to carve out chances, with both out along with our playmaker in the middle, no one was able to step up and create.

Thankfully, Fred brought the flair as the game went on, and was desperately unlucky not to score what would’ve been a superb goal at the death, but I’m sure these doubts will be in the head of Harris, especially if injuries occur later on in the campaign.

Enough worrying, we scored our first goals of the season, and are in the hat for the second round of The League Cup, now let’s get off the mark in the league this coming weekend.

 

Millwall Vs Stevenage – Things We Learnt

Forest Vs Millwall – How Did We Not Win?!

Forest Millwall team huddle

Game one of the season has already been and gone, ultimately ending in defeat away to Nottingham Forest on Friday night. The old cliché applies to this defeat, with the score line far from telling the tale of the match.

With the anxious nerves pre game whilst traveling up to Nottingham, the performance from the team was superb. Bullying a less physical home side, we turned up and I felt played Forest off the park. Creating chances galore, I really don’t know how we didn’t take something away from the game on Friday night.

First half saw Morison hit the cross bar from a set piece, O’Brien missing a header he converted similarly the week previous against Granada. Whilst Gregory also had two chances in the first half you’d back him to usually put away, and as is the case in this division, after failing to put the latest chance away Forest then went up the other end of the pitch and convert their only chance of the first half.

If there was ever an example of what we can expect this season, that was a prime case. Failing to convert a bunch of chances, Forest then went up the other end with new signing Barrie McKay converting from long range. The goal itself was a soft one to give away too, and I’m sure Jordan Archer would’ve felt he could’ve done better with his effort to get across the goal.

Second half was much more of the same, with Gregory having another effort from close range fly over the bar, Jed Wallace also missed an opportunity when put through one-on-one with the Forest goalkeeper. I’m sure you’re getting the theme of how the match played out by now…

The most controversial moment of the match was midway through the second half, with Millwall chasing a goal to get back into the game. On 70 minutes Steve Morison converted a cross from Jed Wallace at the far post, only for the referee to disallow the effort for a foul on the keeper by Gregory.

I don’t think I could display more how disappointing it was to watch on from the stands, but its important to take a look a the positives from a match we dominated and deserved to win comfortably. Any questions we had on whether combinations of players could step up were certainly answered.

Best performance of the night from a Millwall point of view was that of George Saville. In his third debut for the club after arriving from Wolves, Saville was a standout on the pitch, dominant on the ball, Saville also displayed the physical qualities he will bring to the midfield, winning every 50 50 challenge with his Forest counterpart. Alongside Williams it really was great viewing to watch from the stands.

Forest Millwall - Morison Goal Ruled Out

Despite failing to convert chances put their way, a mention should also go to the tried and tested Gregory and Morison combination. Both never stopped running on the night, and along with Jed Wallace offered a real presence when pressing the Forest defenders. A couple of times we managed to win the ball back ended in a clear goal scoring opportunity, and going forward all three have demonstrated their importance to the side.

Elsewhere across the park, the back four of Meredith, Cooper, Hutchinson and McLaughlin coped well throughout. The shape was consistent of the back four, and each had moments of individual brilliance to prevent Forest from having an effort on goal.

A big talking point before kick-off was the decision to go with Cooper and Hutchinson, leaving the ever present Byron Webster out of the side. A big call from Neil Harris at the time, however with Cooper in the side offering the balance being naturally left sided, the back four did look a lot more settled as a whole.

It’s weird to feel so hard done by after suffering defeat, however if we play like we did on Friday night next week at home to Bolton, I have now doubts we will be able to pick up our first win of the season.

Forest Vs Millwall – How Did We Not Win?!

Millwall Vs Granada – Player Ratings

Millwall Granada Hutchinson

Last weekend concluded The Lions’ pre-season campaign, ending with our only win whilst running out 3-0 winners over Spanish side Granada. The ideal end to pre-season, Saturday was the first indication of what sort of side to expect later this week away to Nottingham Forest.

Taking the lead midway through the first half thanks to a Jed Wallace free kick, the intensity levels carried through in the second half with two further goals from midfielder Shaun Williams and the impressive Aiden O’Brien. We probably could’ve ended with more goals, with new signing Tom Elliot testing the Granada keeper on a couple of occasions.

What stood out most from the side was the obvious intent of keeping the ball a little more, when facing off against a team like Granada it’s expected to retain shape and defend without the ball. However, I felt on Saturday with new signings McLaughlin and Meredith in the side we looked more assured on the ball when in possession than last season.

Overall, I’m sure Neil Harris would’ve enjoyed that 90 minutes on Saturday, performances across the park were consistent. Here’s a comment on each players impact on the tie:

Starting XI

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Jordan Archer 6/10 – To settle any questions from you reading, a 6/10 marks an expected performance from a player in my view. In the case of Jordan Archer, I felt it was a solid display from the goalkeeper, assured when having the ball at feet, Archer looked in control of a new and settled back four, also making the occasional long range save. He’ll have more to contend with on Friday I’m sure, but as a benchmark it was a good days work for the number one.

Conor McLaughlin 6/10 – Another to be expected performance for McLauglin on his Den debut, with Wallace in front there’s less of an expectance for the full back to kick on. Having said that, I felt his composure on the ball was very evident, with no sign of taking it easy against the opposition winger. Certainly expecting the new signing to retain his place on the side this week.

Byron Webster 6/10 – Having only featured for 45 minutes with Cooper coming in at half time, there wasn’t much to do for Webster in the first half. Assured as ever, it will be interesting viewing how Webster copes in The Championship this season.

Shaun Hutchinson 7/10 – 90 minutes under his belt, Hutchinson had a solid game in the heart of defence. Lining up on the left side in the first half with Webster, Hutchinson was moved over to the right when Cooper was introduced, showing his adaptability and comfort at playing on either side.

James Meredith 7/10 – Completing the back four was another new signing James Meredith. Tasked with providing the width for the left flank, the full back coped well showing his ability to get up and down the field. Providing a little more composure on the ball, it was a solid Den debut for the full back.

Jed Wallace 9/10 – Star player on the day, man of the match Jed Wallace. Involved with all three goals, Wallace was a constant threat on the right side of midfield. Performances like this almost come to be expected from Wallace, and if we can get that sort of consistency on a weekly basis we already have a standout candidate for player of the season. With O’Brien on song on the other flank, it allowed Wallace to have the space required to star.

Shaun Williams 8/10 – Bossed the midfield alongside Saville and took his goal excellently, a partnership I feel will be frequently used this season with both already having an understanding of each other’s play. Williams seemed to enjoy having the option to kick on further forward, and was in full demonstration mode of his already known passing range.

George Saville 7/10 – Offering the added quality in the middle, Saville on his return to The Den reminded fans present on exactly what he brings to the side. The added know how in games to win free kicks, Saville also was on hand to show his qualities in a tackle and ability to win the ball from the opposition midfield.

Aiden O’Brien 8/10 – Another standout throughout his time on the field, tracking back in defence to effect, O’Brien’s main influence was in attack. Drifting in from the left onto his right foot, we got the usual flair in the attacking areas but with an added end product, whether a telling pass or an effort on goal himself. As I mentioned in my preview, with O’Brien we have the added goal threat, and whilst Gregory and Morison were marked out of the game and failing to find the net, O’Brien was able to pop-up at the back post from a Wallace cross to convert a simple tap-in.

Lee Gregory 6/10 – Frustrating day for Gregory, with no clear opportunities finding his way to get off the mark. We know of his quality so it would only be a matter of time before he gets the goal, and Friday night would be the perfect opportunity for him to put that right.

Steve Morison 7/10 – Against Spanish opposition, Morison was able to win the crucial flick-on’s more often than not, and able to provide the outlet should we decide to play long. Again, not many chances were on offer for Morison, but much like Lee Gregory you’d have faith in Morison putting on the required performance when lining up on Friday away to Nottingham Forest.

SUBS

Cooper – 6/10

Ferguson – 6/10

Elliott – 6/10

Thompson – 6/10

Onyedinma – 6/10

Craig – N/A

Worrall – N/A

Butcher – N/A

 

Millwall Vs Granada – Player Ratings