Matt Smith finally Joins Millwall

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Monday evening saw news broke with the formal announcement of Matt Smith as a Millwall player. It signals the third addition of the summer with Smith following goalkeeper Frank Fielding’s signing late last week; of course Alex Pearce had signed on the dotted line shortly after last seasons completion to be the first of the trio.

The three signings so far, least in my opinion make up the experienced players in the squad. With the likes of Tony Craig and Steve Morison departing in recent seasons, we are now seeing a transformation of players that Neil Harris will turn to when requiring a big performance when results are not quite going our way.

I’m by no means a mind reader and couldn’t possibly begin to tell you the exact thought process behind the three signings so far this summer. However, hopefully now with one or two match winners joining up in the coming weeks we wont be far away from what Harris wants to see from his Millwall side next season. I’m talking about your Jamal Lowe’s and Kieffer Moore’s, players who have impressed the division below and will be eager to come in and make it count in The Championship should the chance be offered to them.

If you happen to be unfamiliar with our new number 10 and his journey up until now, Smith’s arrival brings another element to our front line, especially considering his height of 6 feet 6 inches. Indeed with the departure of Morison in the early summer and the supposed departure of Tom Elliott pending, Smith will certainly be our new go to player when looking to play a direct style of play.

Joining up from London rivals QPR, the 30 year old target man brings a wealth of Championship experience with nearly 200 games at this level over the course of the last seven years. A former Leeds United and Fulham player too, Smith has actually been a Millwall target for as long as Ian Holloway’s stint in charge at The Den. Link here for reference should you be interested!

So we’ve finally got our man as the saying goes, but what can we expect from Smith? Well with 21 goals in 94 appearances at Loftus Road, it doesn’t sound like the most prolific of signings however its worth noting Smith was sparingly used in the last two seasons at QPR. In fact, of the 94 league appearances 55 were from the subs bench, therefore perhaps statistics such as goals to game ratio don’t quite work in the forwards favour.

If you scroll further back to Smith’s first season at Elland Road with Leeds, the forward actually netted 12 goals in 39 appearances in his first season in The Championship. Used as a key part of their team at the time, he was quickly a fan favourite at Leeds with many of their fans sad to see him leave after he joined Fulham. Joining a club such as Millwall now, who have always taken to a front two partnership with a little and large duo, the prospect of seeing Smith and Tom Bradshaw line up together in pre-season leaves me more than hopeful!

Despite some saying we should’ve moved away from Smith when we failed to sign him in seasons gone by, I believe we’ve got a top addition joining who betters our front line when comparing the impact Morison and Elliott had last season. Hopefully with a full pre-season together we could also see Bradshaw and Smith hit it off together and strike up a front two partnership that we as a club have always relied on.

Three signings so far Harris, go and get us some more please..!

Matt Smith finally Joins Millwall

Rolling the dice could be the masterstroke we need…

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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?!

Rolling the dice could be the masterstroke we need…

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…

Enjoy The Run-In… We Have Nothing To Lose

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Five to play and the climax of The Championship is near, with Millwall sitting comfortably in 7th with one point separating us and the Play-Off places for Premier League football. In a season where the priority was survival and getting to 50 points as soon as possible, even the ambitious fans amongst us wouldn’t have dreamt of the run we currently are on with the club now chasing down the top six in the division.

Saturday saw The Lions dispose of early season pace runners Bristol City in front of another capacity crowd at The Den. With the atmosphere probably the greatest of the season so far, the players turned up once more with Jed Wallace and Steve Morison grabbing a goal each as we ran out 2-0 winners. Wallace in-particular starring throughout with his direct running causing the Bristol City defence numerous problems, the winger provided a goal of the season candidate too with his curling effort from the edge of the box leaving Frank Fielding in goal no chance.

In the first of five “six-pointer” ties where we take on the majority of teams in and around us chasing the top six, Neil Harris couldn’t hide his praise for the team. Limiting Bristol City to no shots within our 18 yard box, Jordan Archer in goal had nothing to do in a game where the out of form visitors failed to register a single shot on target. It’s a true credit to how far the team has come since the turn of the year, unbeaten in 15 league games (yes, FIFTEEN!) managing to win 10, aside from Fulham we are the form team in the division.

The phrase “overachieving” is over-used when a club such as ours does well in any competition. However, considering the financial power a lot of the clubs in and around us have in The Championship, plus sides such as Sunderland on the verge of double relegation to the third tier, Neil Harris and co. deserve immense amount of credit for the job done since his appointment three years ago now. The strategy is clear, the style of play suits the club, and more importantly the whole fan base is behind every decision the club makes.

Midway through the second half on Saturday, the whole ground was in unison whilst blurting out The Super Neil Harris chant. Despite already being considered a club legend for his efforts as a player, I don’t think even Neil Harris would’ve dreamt of the position we currently find ourselves in at the moment. With five to play fate is firmly in our own hands, easier said than done but win our last five and no matter how other teams get on we land up in the end of season shootout for promotion.

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Bolton, Sheffield United, Fulham, Middlesbrough and Aston Villa make up our last five fixtures. Last June on fixture release day I had Aston Villa at home on the last day of the season down as a game where both teams would need the win for differing reasons, with the likelihood we’d be languishing at the bottom needing a win for survival. Now we have these big teams coming up in and around us I couldn’t think of a better set of fixtures to have.

Bolton tomorrow night could prove to be the toughest test of the lot. Having lost their last three and Barnsley beneath them winning on Saturday with a game extra to play, Bolton have almost been clawed back into the relegation dog fight. Pressure will be on Millwall to turn up and win the tie and we go in as the favourites. Having said that, based on recent form being the favourite is something we’ve been for the majority of recent games. When we come up against the likes of Fulham and Aston Villa, teams with a huge financial backing compared to ourselves the pressure is lifted as we take on our familiar underdog tag we thrive on.

I guess now we’re in the position we find ourselves in, the team are full of confidence and fully enjoying their football. Who knows, we might actually end up in the top six and have another day at Wembley… Regardless of the outcome of the remaining five games, what I can say for certain, it has been one of the best seasons following the club.

Enjoy the run-in… We have nothing to lose.

 

Enjoy The Run-In… We Have Nothing To Lose

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

Millwall Vs Granada – Player Ratings

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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