Millwall (H) Match Preview

Surely not? Despite my last preview being a complete acceptance of our impending relegation, and essentially an 800 word Wigan fan meltdown, we only wen tout and picked up a 1-0 win away at Stoke City to keep our survival hopes alive by the barest of margins. We still need a lot of things to go our way as well as us winning three from three, but stranger things have happened?

As Shaun Maloney keeps reminding us this club has a history of getting ourselves out of seemingly impossible situations. Our task is very simple, win win and win again. What happens elsewhere isn’t up to us, all we have to do is get ourselves to 46 points and hope to God there are three teams that haven’t. And please please please don’t end up being 3 points off safety…

It’s an equally big game for Millwall, probably even bigger as their goals are much more achievable. The Lions sit 5th in the league and need a win to all but cement themselves in the play-off spots, but know anything other than three points could see them tumble out of the top six and face a tricky last two games to reclaim their space. Latics must prey on this pressure.

Latics Team News

There were a few unexpected changes on Tuesday night that took a lot of supporters by surprise. Ben Amos and Charlie Hughes both missed out with ‘injuries’ whilst Ashley Fletcher was dropped in place of Josh Magennis at the top end of the pitch. Under 21 star Abdi Sharif also made his first appearance on the bench but didn’t feature unfortunately for him.

Ben Amos’ absence was arguably long overdue given his performances this season but the same could be said about his replacement Jamie Jones. People will talk about the QPR game where Amos kept us in the lead but unfortunately more often than not he hasn’t been there when we needed him, and despite his absence being down to ‘injury’ I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s lost his spot in the team now.

Interestingly he’s played 29 games this season and with lots of talk about contract extensions triggered after X amount of games it’s not out of the question that we’re planning on not reaching the 30 game mark to avoid such a clause. If you asked me now whether or not I’d keep him on next season my initial thoughts are, no thank you…

Charlie Hughes’ absence was more hard hitting and certainly won’t have been anything other than forced. He apparently picked up an injury against Swansea but was risked against Blackpool and then unavailable for Tuesday night, but Shaun Maloney seems confident that he’ll be able to play tomorrow afternoon.

His replacement Ryan Nyambe performed well as did Omar Rekik and Jack Whatmough. For all the criticism thrown at our defensive record this season I have been really impressed with them under Shaun Maloney and it fills me with confidence going forward that we’ll be very difficult to break down. By going forward I mean in the future, nothing is filling me with confidence going forward in a footballing sense!

Tendayi Darikwa was unfortunate not to score against Stoke after hitting an effort from 12 yards ‘too sweetly’ as it flew just past the post. James McClean, or as he now likes to be called ‘Stoke’s 2019/20 fans player of the season award winner’ James McClean enjoyed himself in front of a stadium filled with abuse for him. How original from the Stoke fans eh, I’m sure Millwall will be much nicer to him…

Max Power and Christ Tiehi returned to the midfield together and looked more like they did at the peaks of their powers. Both had sort of tailed off over the Easter period but it was nice to see them back on form. Slightly concerning was Power’s lack of celebration for our goal followed by seemingly another fall out with the away end. After the events at Blackpool where he confronted a section of the travelling fans it’s not a good look for anybody.

Will Keane finally ended his goal drought with a lovely low finish across the keeper. Getting the best out of Keane is something Shaun Maloney has tried and arguably failed to do up to now but he seemed much more effective alongside Josh Magennis which was nice. Callum Lang also showed sparks of the talented counter attacking forward we know he can be.

Ashley Fletcher was dropped after a string of underwhelming performances but should have ended the day with a goal. Having been given the ball six yards from goal with just a defender to beat on the line he somehow fired it straight at the Stoke player’s legs which just about summed up his time at the club so far. I expect another appearance off the bench for him…

An Opposition View

1) It’s been a wonderful season for Millwall who currently find themselves 5th in the Championship with a shot at promotion within reach. Can you sum up what this season at the Den has been like so far?

“Millwall have narrowly missed out on a place in the top six in each of the last three seasons, so the ultimate aim was to make the next step and qualify for a place in the play-offs. This is undoubtedly their best chance of doing that.

The Lions are right in the mix and have been since they recovered from a disastrous start where they were sat in the bottom half of the table at the start of October. August and September were appalling for Millwall and prompted a shift from Gary Rowett’s preferred back five to a 4-2-3-1. Since then, they’ve been competitive in almost every game and picked up some fantastic results.

February was especially impressive, with Millwall winning three, drawing three and losing just one of their seven matches that month, beating Sheffield United and picking up a point against Burnley. Their recent dip is certainly a cause for concern, but it’s far from irreparable.” [@alexjNAD]

2) We’re at the business end of the season now and it’s fair to say you’re stumbling over the line somewhat. With one win in your last six do you think the pressure is getting to the side?

“Pressure has certainly played a part in Millwall’s recent games, but it’s not the only factor. The Den is an incredibly hard place to come, but that can also make it difficult for the home players, who can face quite a hostile reaction if things aren’t going their way.

The last six games been frustrating. Millwall have dominated Huddersfield Town, Hull City and Birmingham City but lost 1-0 to all of them. Goalless draws away at West Brom and home to Luton Town are impressive, but ultimately did little to take them closer to a top-six finish. The win against Preston North End was really good but looks to be an anomaly in the recent run.

Results elsewhere have helped Millwall. They returned from the international break in sixth, won one of their five games and are somehow fifth in the table. It’s hard to see them getting any more lifelines now, and with Wigan and Blackpool as the next two games, they’re going to have to take six points.” [@alexjNAD]

3) It would appear the Millwall side that plays at the Den is a very different one to the side that travels away from home. Is this fair, and why do you think the home form and away form differ so much?

“Most people think that Millwall are an incredible side at home but one that really struggle on the road. Results have backed that up in recent years but less so this season.

The Lions have been hit-and-miss at The Den, especially since the turn of the year. Norwich City, Huddersfield Town and Birmingham City have all left SE16 with three points, while there has been much more consistency on the road, having only lost just one away game since Valentine’s Day.

The aforementioned pressure at The Den makes it hard, but as I said, it also makes it a hostile place for away teams to visit. Maybe Millwall don’t need that hostility in the run-in, however, where the pressure is high and every mistake is scrutinised. These next two games will show whether or not that’s the case.” [@alexjNAD]

4) The Millwall team must be one of the most underrated sides in the division given their remarkable league standing, but who would you say are the standouts that Latics should be most wary of on Saturday afternoon? 

“I believe that Wigan can be relegated if they lose this game and other results go against them, so I’m expecting them to try and attack the game as they really have nothing to lose. As a result, centre-back duo Jake Cooper and Shaun Hutchinson will both need to be at their best, having been vital players for Millwall all season.

The key players are fairly clear to see, with Tom Bradshaw and Zian Flemming having scored 15 and 14 goals respectively. Between them, they have scored more than half of Millwall’s goals this season, showing how important they are to this team.

Bradshaw hit form at the start of 2023, scoring 11 goals since his brace against Rotherham United on New Year’s Day and winning the Sky Bet Championship Player of the Month for February. Flemming has hit a bit of a dry patch in recent weeks but his work both on and off the ball is second to none in this Millwall team.

If they are both on form, they can do significant damage to any team in this division. However, if they are kept quiet, the Lions don’t really have any other players who can perform consistently in the final third.” [@alexjNAD]

Tactical Talk

The Stoke game showed us glimpses of what Shaun Maloney wants his team to play like. Despite being pretty much completely unthreatening in the first half we still remained in control of the game and I felt like at times in the second half we really took over the game both in terms of territory and possession.

We also saw the first Will Keane goal of the Shaun Maloney reign and it was typical of the goals he’s scored for us previously. A Darikwa overlap, cut back to Max Power and a cross, albeit a poor one that was fortunate to reach Keane, and a swivel and finish by Latics’ number ten. It’s the kind of goal this system is made for.

This situation still isn’t ideal but at least we have bodies in the box. The three forwards are probably slightly too cramped and we could do with one of them (probably Lang) offering an option in behind down the side of the defence. James McClean being high and wide provides an overload at the back post which also helps.

It’s still clear to me that we’re not quite as fluid up front as we should be. Even in situations like the goal we’re not being as threatening as we should be, there’s not much movement off the ball and but for a lucky bounce or two we might not have scored. We’re absolutely due a bit of luck but we can’t rely on it to keep us up.

The manager has already explained how we’re lacking several key profiles that limit us at the top end of the pitch. Pace and direct running ability is certainly one of them and it’s meant we’ve had to find new ways of attacking. Loading the penalty area and delivering crosses into the area is about as good as we’ll get with this crop of players.

Now if done correctly that can be a decent enough plan. However, only four teams have faced less crosses this season than Millwall and they’re very good at defending in wide areas, so we might struggle in that regard. In the reverse fixture we got a lot of joy on the counterattack and we might have to settle for the same kinds of openings.

One thing is for sure, set pieces will play a huge part in deciding the outcome of this game. Millwall are the divisions most effective team from dead ball scenarios, scoring every 16.8 ones they take. The next best is 18 so that does show how much better they are. For reference, Latics score every 30.8 set pieces so they’re miles ahead.

It’ll more than likely be 4-2-3-1 from Millwall and we’ll have to watch out for Zian Flemming, the Lion’s star man. There isn’t anything particularly special about the way they set up or the way they play, they’re just very effective at what they do. Latics will need to start the game with tempo and aggression and not let them settle into the game. It won’t be easy.

Final Thoughts

It’s literally last chance saloon for us now. We simply have to keep winning and winning and hope everyone around us keeps losing and losing, otherwise it’s League One for us next season. The chances are it will be and most have already accepted that fate, but there’s still a tiny chance of survival.

We couldn’t, could we?

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