Ahead of what promises to be a summer and pre-season of mass turnover in SE16, the underlying feeling when leaving the 2018/2019 last month was a sense of relief. Despite finishing under the so called magic target of 50 points, we managed at the expense of three worse teams survive in The Championship.
For the first time since probably handing Neil Harris the job four summers ago, we again have differing views as a fanbase as to whether we have the right man in charge to take the club forward. No one doubts or plays down the achievement’s of Harris and co, however would the club perhaps benefit from a change of direction?
We currently have 16 contracted senior players at the club; including recent addition Alex Pearce who put pen to paper and extend his stay at The Den beyond his loan expiry date. This number is however slightly inflated, with both Fred Onyedinma and Tom Elliott offered out to clubs should anyone be interested. Not to mention the forgotten half a million pound man Jiri Skalak, who only made four starts the entire campaign just gone. Take away these three and you’re left with a squad of 13 players…
Mahlon Romeo, Shaun Hutchinson, Alex Pearce – Contract signed, Jake Cooper, Murray Wallace, James Meredith, Jed Wallace, Jiri Skalak, Shane Ferguson, Aiden O’Brien, Shaun Williams, Ryan Leonard, Ben Thompson, Tom Bradshaw, Tom Elliott and Fred Onyedinma are the only contracted senior players at the club.
Whilst alarm bells are ringing amongst supporters and rightly so with pre-season already only around the corner. I, perhaps somehow liken to the approach to rolling the dice. Taking risks that could backfire, however could also bring huge amounts of success. At this level you need a different approach to compete and this could hopefully bring that turn we need.
Some might call it delusion, but with key personnel such as Steve Morison and Lee Gregory departing the club, a duo who had huge success for us. The door is now open to either a newcomer or someone already within the club to ‘grab the shirt’ and make an impact. Agreed, no one has joined aside from Alex Pearce at the time of writing this, but Harris’ knowledge and success at the club the last four years earns the right to be afforded the benefit of doubt.
After overseeing a clear out in his first pre season in charge, Harris brought in Archer, Ferguson, Morison and Wallace the following season, three players who went on to contribute a huge amount the following seasons. We also got a rejuvenated Gregory working under Harris and enjoying his football, could there be a member of the current squad now who is out of favour but go on to prove us all wrong?
Supporters want to see a side who crosses the white line at The Den and give their all for the club who pay their wages. Given that we are now in the second division of the English pyramid, the expectancy is hyped and we not only want passion and commitment but also a bit of quality to come with it. Players already at the club such as Romeo, Cooper, Wallace and Thompson already offer the excitement factor, now we just need the club to back the manager at the helm and see what returns he gives us.
Rolling the dice could be the masterstroke we need… Whats the alternative to that?!
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.
Can't remember a run-in where every team seems to be facing off against each other at the season end:
Wolves v Derby Sheff Utd v Millwall Boro v Bristol C Millwall v Fulham Derby V Boro Derby v Cardiff Boro v Millwall Sheff Utd v Preston Millwall v Villa Bristol C v Sheff Utd
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Anyone get down The Den yesterday then?! Who was your man of the match? #Millwall
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.
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…
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.
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?
The weekend saw the arrival of our second game of pre-season, as we travelled to The Hive, Barnet. Having been away for a week in Portugal on the now annual pre-season trip, it was the first chance for the senior players to get close to a full match under their belt.
Before the match Harris revealed he would be splitting the squads for the two games against Barnet and Stevenage, in an attempt to maximise minutes per game for all senior players. The starting XI was complete with senior players and the bench had only Under 23 squad members.
The game itself played out to a disappointing 1-0 defeat. Goal scorer for Barnet through always the handful Jon Akinde. I know, it is only pre-season and results are not a priority at this stage as I always say myself. However, looking on whilst at the game, the performance was equally as bad, with Barnet the better side for the majority of the match.
With the XI we had out there, we should’ve been able to create an abundance of chances and offer our forwards the chance to get off the mark in a game. Looking back now, you’d struggle to pick out those moments where we carved apart our League Two opposition.
Harris himself after the game was quick to mention his disappointment in the performance, and also mentioning a couple of the players would be lucky to get near the starting XI when we travel to Nottingham in less than two weeks’ time.
Anyway, having witnessed the 90 minutes at the ground, here are five points that crossed my mind at full time:
McLaughlin and Meredith look at home
Albeit the negative start to this post, let’s start on a positive point from the game. Both full backs Conor McLaughlin and James Meredith started the match Saturday with the latter completing the full game; McLaughlin was replaced with 10 minutes remaining for youngster James Brown.
Completing the back four with Byron Webster and Shaun Hutchinson, there was a sense of having a defensively sound back four. With both full backs also offering their qualities going forward in the wide areas, their ability to get up and down the flanks was very evident.
Left side taking shape
Keeping with the wide areas on the pitch, the combination on the left hand side with Shane Ferguson and Meredith was also impressive. Both offer the natural balance to the team, however what stood out most was their understanding of each other’s game. If Meredith was to kick on into the final third, Ferguson offered the cover to the full back, and we know Ferguson is more than capable of covering in defence.
The build-up play between the two also stood out, dragging Barnet players with them out of position and creating space for each other. The usual defensive choice for Harris is to play Ferguson instead of Aiden O’Brien, and with a step up in opposition this season, it would not be a surprise for Ferguson to get the nod in more games this time around.
Lack of midfield presence
Starting with our tried and tested 4-4-2 formation, Saturday we had Calum Butcher and Shaun Williams in the middle of the park. I have never been one to be over critical of players like Butcher, who on paper are the backup options available to Harris in our squad. However Saturday was glaringly obvious the absence of a typical box-to-box midfielder such as Ben Thompson.
With Williams playing the role of the midfield playmaker, the job of the player next to Williams is to bring the physicality and win your teams 50-50 tackles, or bring the energy and provide something of a nuisance to the opposing central players. Against Barnet, I felt Butcher didn’t provide either, with the Barnet midfield offered too much time on the ball, and able pick out players in more advanced positions.
Perhaps a lot to do with Butcher’s performance was lack of match time, often miss timing a tackle and when having the ball at feet, Butcher was failing to pick out a pass to set the attackers on their way further up the field. Perhaps I’m being over critical, however the absence of a Ben Thompson was clear viewing.
Lack of creativity
With Jed Wallace, Aiden O’Brien and Fred Onyedinma giving the game off and likely to feature tomorrow at Stevenage, an opportunity was presented to players like David Worrall to stake their claim for a place in the first XI. Having lost his place thanks to the arrival of Wallace, it looked like an opportunity Harris wanted to give to the wide man with both Morison and Gregory starting up top.
However as I mentioned in the intro to the post, the game played out with hardly any chances created, especially down the right flank. It opened my eyes to how much I think we rely on Jed Wallace, due to Wallace’s pace and directness on the ball, he brings a constant threat in the wide areas. Players Gregory know where the ball is likely to end up with Wallace playing, beating his man and producing a cross that seems always causes havoc in the opposition area.
Worrall provides a steady back-up to the team, but it won’t be a shock to any if he doesn’t feature on the first game of the season. Up next in pre-season, a trip to Stevenage…