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

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.

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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…

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.

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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?!