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.
Alex Pearce✅ Frank Fielding✅ Matt Smith✅
There’s your experienced good pros who know this division like the back of their hand Harris, now get us a couple match winners that can win us games on their own.
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.
Matt Smith has been involved in 29 goals (19 goals & 10 assists) in 39 games (Based on mins played, 3,539) in the last 2 seasons in the Championship. One of the most underrated strikers in the league, He suits #Millwall perfectly. I for one am very sorry to see him go! #QPR.
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..!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Great day back training with the boys today can’t wait to get involved in the games soon 🦁
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.
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.
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…
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…
Saturday will bring forward our second pre-season game away to Barnet in North London. With two weeks to go now until we kick off our league campaign away to Nottingham Forest, preparations are now ramping up for all sides as the excitement of the new season continues to grow.
With the squad spending a week away in Portugal for the annual pre-season camp, tomorrow should hopefully offer an indication of what to expect this season. Dartford was the opener after two weeks of fitness training, whereas now after a week away as a squad together things will start to take shape.
Patterns of play, tactical analysis, Neil Harris has often come out and said the best work of pre-season for his staff is during the camp away from the UK. It offers the chance to not only bring the group closer together, but also allows Harris to monitor the players up close and further his own relationship with the players.
Of course, extra sessions are demanded from the players, so jadedness/fatigue is often an excuse used in pre-season if results don’t go the way anticipated. Whilst again, the result will not matter to Harris tomorrow, the expectation on the players will begin to grow. Performances will start to matter now, with a competitive squad we now have the battle for each position in the first XI, who will make the XI in two weeks time?
We will save the debate for what we all think our best XI will be for the week leading up the season start, however I always look forward to the partnerships the manager chooses in pre-season. Whilst not set in stone and experiments are often carried out to the starting XI, it’s always worth looking into who starts in central midfield, central defence, or who even lines up at full back and on the wing for the left and right sides.
Especially with new signings joining the squad, these are the games where you hope to see partnerships form throughout the side. We already know what worked last season for the majority, however the introduction of new players almost allows for a clean slate for everyone.
With Barnet cementing their place in the fourth tier, they will offer a competitive opposition to the side as we look for our first win of pre-season. We actually played Barnet last season on their home turf in the first round of the League Cup, running out 4-0 winners in probably one of the most dominant performances of our season. Having beaten Oldham 3-0 on the first day then 4-0 at Barnet, I did indeed grow in optimism thinking we’d win League One… Least we went up!
Players still with Barnet include former Lion Curtis Weston, also forwards Jon Akinde and Jamal Campbell-Ryce. Albeit an average League Two team, it should aid and step-up the performances of our players.
Either way… Only two weeks to go now!
Pre-season game number two tomorrow!! Anyone going to Barnet?? #Millwall