Alex Pearce and Matt Smith extend their Millwall contracts

Matt Smith agrees a one year extension with Millwall

Yesterday afternoon saw the news break that Millwall target-man Matt Smith had agreed a one year extension with the club. He joins club captain Alex Pearce, who also extended his stay in SE16 for another year at the backend of last week. We of course knew that both offers were on the table for the experienced pair when the club released its retained list at the end of the season. With both on reduced terms both financially and playing wise, I believe manager Gary Rowett will be pleased to get both to stay for next season at The Den.

Although Smith was injured towards the end of the season, and actually only played more than 45′ seven times all season, the forward is a natural plan B option for me. If we’re chasing a game whilst being a goal down and looking for that moment to get us back into the game, with 15-20 to go Smith is that go to option. At times, even just his presence in the box is enough to off put opposition defences, not to mention the influence the forward has off the pitch.

Much like Pearce, Smith has been labelled as a positive influence in the dressing room and his output for the team is much greater than just his affect he has as a big man up top. As mentioned above, the terms offered to both players were also greatly reduced financially, which should also allow Rowett increased financial movability in a market which will be greatly impacted by the on-going nationwide pandemic.

Not forgetting Smith was our top scorer in the 2019-2020 league campaign, he also managed to score three times last season despite his opportunities becoming limited as we mentioned above, with only seven starts in the league. Three goals betters the likes of Böðvarsson still though, with the Icelandic international only managing the one goal in 38 league apperances.

Pearce will also provide a steady backup to the likes of Shaun Hutchinson, Jake Cooper and Murray Wallace in the heart of defence. Whilst I don’t rate Pearce as high as what Smith will offer us going into next season, with more experience and know-how leaving the club in midfielder Shaun Williams this summer, I do agree with Rowett that losing too much experience could have a negative output on the playing squad.

If you’re Hayden Muller or Isaac Olaofe I imagine you’ll be thinking your chances of playing next season become even more limited, which of course has to be viewed as a negative. However, I do believe the pair and other youngsters on the fringes of the squad will benefit more from a loan spell away from The Den, we’ve seen already with Danny McNamara that a loan spell away from the club, playing consistently and grabbing headlines away from The Den can only increase your chances of long term success in a Millwall shirt.

We ran a poll yesterday evening asking what you the readers felt of both Pearce and Smith extending their stays, results are below. If you haven’t already, be sure to follow us on Twitter to participate in polls like this in the future!

With over 70% voting yes and only 10% stating they’d rather get rid, it feels like the overwhelming majority are happy with the experienced pair staying for another season at least. In both cases I’d like to think Rowett is looking for long term successors for the pair, and I would be very surprised if between the two of them they managed more than 20 starts in the league in the new season. It’s very much the impact off the pitch where their value will be felt for the team.

Alex Pearce and Matt Smith extend their Millwall contracts

Gary Rowett’s “Three Year Plan”

Millwall manager Gary Rowett

Appointed manager on the 19th October 2019, Millwall boss Gary Rowett has been at the club now 19 months (599 days). Sacked from Stoke City in January of the same year, the Millwall job is Rowett’s fifth Football League management job, also managing at Burton Albion, Birmingham City and Derby County previously. Having been considered and missing out on the Millwall job six years previous to Steve Lomas, it was Neil Harris who put forward Rowett to succeed him at The Den as boss in SE16.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure on Rowett when initially appointed. Many shared the same initial impression that having left Derby for Stoke, it perhaps tarnished a reputation he had of being an uprising Championship manager. However looking at the fortunes of Derby now with plenty of financial uncertainty, it highlights in football the full story is never quite out there. What was in Rowett’s favour was the fact he seemed to be a success at clubs which thrived on being the underdog, especially at Birmingham where his dismissal was one of the most un-just in recent history, having been sacked whilst Birmingham were in the play-off places.

Throughout his time as manager, Rowett has constantly eluded to a “three year plan” which was laid out to the club board during the interview process before he got the job. Here is why going into next season, pressure might start ramping up on Rowett and co.

So what is the three year plan?

“If I look back at the interview process I had to deliver a three-year plan – this was almost like the third year, getting into the top six or at least getting really close to the top six.” Gary Rowett in July 2020

“When I came in I had a three-year plan. The first year was to build a solid Championship team that wasn’t flirting with relegation; the second season was to build a top-10 team that maybe flirted with the top six and the third season was to try and break into the top six.” – Gary Rowett in May 2021

Two separate interviews towards the end of his last two seasons at Millwall as manager, both mentioning his three year plan. With us now approaching the third season of his spell at The Den, expectation from the manager has to be that we finally break into that top six right? If only football worked that way…

As we mentioned in our last blog post, so much depends on recruitment going into the coming season, especially improving our forward line to increase our goals output. To be fair to Rowett, he didn’t have a real pre-season last year, in that the season before had finished in July, and by September we were off and running again in the new season at the time. All of this wasn’t ideal, but with the players all having at least six-weeks off before the squad returns to pre-season at the end of the month, the off season is perfect timing for Rowett to work with the recruitment team and Harvey Bussell to bring in those key personnel for us to kick on and realise our goal of play-off contention next season.

When Rowett had first arrived at Millwall, a lot of us fans were impressed with is press conferences especially post match, where he’d come out and give an honest and transparent verdict on the result and performance of the team. He’d also be a breath of fresh air with straight answers to anything asked of him by the club media and local papers. Being as transparent with his “three year plan” might also be a masterstroke from the manager, it makes everyone aware of the ultimate goal and the players we might recruit are buying into a club who aim to be up at the right end of the table next season.

The risk with being so open and honest is clear to see, if we don’t recruit well, if we don’t get off to a good start to the season in the opening months, then the pressure on Rowett will be massive. Having not been able to watch Millwall in person last season, many fans returning to The Den will want to see a Millwall team firing on all cylinders. If results and more importantly performances are not to the standard of supporters, I don’t think I need to highlight the consequences to that do I?

A win percentage of 38.4% doesn’t scream a successful stint to date as manager, however with only 25 defeats in 86 matches as manager we’ve become a team which are very difficult to defeat. Averaging just over 1.1 goal per game throughout that spell once again highlights our real lack of a goal threat which hinders us from moving further up the league table; I can’t stress enough how important this summer is for the club to back the manager and give him the tools he needs to take us to the next level.

Having finished 21st place under Harris in his last full season as manager, I think we’d have taken two top half finishes the seasons after with open arms. What finishing 8th and 11th truly highlights for me is that we’re a stable club in a division where stability is very hard to come by, Rowett has offered that stability with the ever present support from chairman John Berylson. The job so far has been an above average return for Rowett, but now we need to try and build on that and complete the managers three year plan.

Gary Rowett’s “Three Year Plan”

The Three Positions Millwall Must Improve This Summer

Harvey Bussell – Millwall’s head of recruitment – Joining back in January 2021

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.

Jake Cooper and Shaun Hutchinson – continue to show their importance to the club and manager Gary Rowett.

Central defender

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.

Attacking Midfielder/Winger

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.

The Three Positions Millwall Must Improve This Summer