It’s been a really positive start. The opening league game against Stoke was a horrible game of football but I think it showed signs that Stoke are going to be pretty strong this season, so that was a decent point to pick up. Then they earned three really good points at Rotherham, where they had just one really good chance and took it, as well as defending really well in what was another poor game. In the Carabao Cup, Gary Rowett used the competition to give minutes to players who hadn’t played in the league and they beat two League Two sides, as you’d expect. On Wednesday against Burnley, he made eight changes and though Burnley made changes too, they still sent out a strong team and their quality told in the end. In terms of going out of the cup, I don’t think it's a major disappointment because the next round would have been played in an empty Den and it almost feels like a waste of time as there wouldn’t have been anyone there. It would have been another chance for players to get injured and they’ve got a relatively small squad already. It’s been a really solid start and though we’re only five games in, it looks as though they should have a good season.
Last term’s eighth place finish meant it was the second time in three seasons the club had managed to do so. You’ve often previously mentioned the fact they are punching above their weight at times but do you think the top six is the aim?
In the madness of the final day of last season, it turned out that, had they beaten QPR, they would have finished sixth. After that game, Rowett said that he didn’t like the ‘punching above their weight’ or ‘little old Millwall’ mentality and that he wants to change that. I think he thinks that he has a squad that should be challenging around the play-offs, so I certainly won’t be referring to them punching above their weight any time soon! He does have a good squad and has made some really good additions, so I think they are capable of building on last season’s eighth-place finish. Steering clear of injuries is the big thing because they just don’t have the squad size to cope with that, but they have players capable of keeping them in the top 10, maybe towards sixth place.
In August, highly-rated teenager Troy Parrott (pictured above) signed on loan for the season from Tottenham. That must’ve been one that went down well with the fans?
Yes, it did. I’d say it’s the most high-profile signing in the five seasons I’ve been covering the club. He’s a young Premier League striker who Spurs fans were clamouring to have in their team when Harry Kane and Son Heung-min were out and he’s an Ireland international who played in friendlies in last summer and looked really, really good. He looked really good in pre-season and other players said that in training, his finishing is unbelievable. He scored against Southend but then injured his quad, before making his debut in midweek against Burnley. I noticed from early on that he wasn’t moving very well but apparently he got a kick in the ankle and Rowett has said it doesn’t look good. He’s a major doubt for Saturday and that’s a huge blow because goals are something they’ve really struggled with and his ability to link, as well as his finishing, is really going to be missed. It’s been a really frustrating and difficult start for him.
Ahead of both meetings last season you spoke about the transfer speculation surrounding Jed Wallace at the time. Are you surprised at how that has died down since?
Middlesbrough were in for him a couple of summers ago and then I think Aston Villa might have been linked and he had a really, really good start to last season and scored 10 goals but then didn’t score after 28 January at Leeds. I wonder how much the whole situation with coronavirus and things tightening up slightly financially means that Wallace isn’t in the sights of upper Championship clubs, who might have previously had around £10 million to spend on him. If this was a normal summer I’m sure there would have been some interest but there’s less movement in the market so it looks like he’s going to stay.
How is Gary Rowett likely to set up his side on Saturday afternoon?
I’d say, almost certainly, 5-2-3. I’ll go through the likely team: Bialkowski, Romeo, Hutchinson, Pearce, Cooper, Malone, Woods, Leonard, Wallace, Bennett, Smith.
Millwall have won two of the last three meetings between the two sides at The Den; what’s your score prediction for this one?
I’d imagine this will be a low scoring game but they have been so solid at the back, so I’ll go for a repeat of last season and say 1-0 to Millwall.
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