After two victories in succession, the outlook looks slightly rosier for Millwall. What have you made of the first few months of the season?
The points total doesn’t reflect the performances they’ve put in. People might see that Millwall are close to the bottom and think they are really struggling, but they are creating a huge number of chances.
The Lions conceded seven goals from nine shots on target heading into the Ipswich Town fixture, which is a freak statistic. Millwall had over 30 shots on goal in those games and had nothing like the same in return. They are creating a lot of chances but not taking them, while almost everything is going in at the other end.
Luck hasn’t been with them this season; the only games where they really were poor came against Rotherham United and Sheffield Wednesday. Other than that, they’ve been playing quite well and definitely deserve to be higher up the table. I think they’ll be fine this season.
Is there any obvious reason as to why The Lions have so far struggled to rack up a sequence of positive results?
We’ve been asking Neil Harris that and his thinking is that it’s down to a little bit of bad luck. There have been individual errors that have let teams in to score but he’s not just putting it down to that, he’s saying they need to be more aggressive when defending their own penalty box; when the ball enters the area, they have to attack it. It’s hard to put your finger on why so many shots are going in against them and then why, at the other end, they are not tucking away their chances. It’s something that you would hope, on balance, will correct itself.
The club strengthened the squad in the summer with a number of experienced players. Who has impressed you the most?
I think Ryan Leonard has especially big boots to fill because George Saville scored ten goals last year and then went to Middlesbrough on deadline day for £8m. That was a huge loss for Millwall and it unsettled them because they played Middlesbrough in the opening game and a few days later they bid for both Saville and Jed Wallace. Harris admitted that the dressing room was unsettled but I think once the offer came in for Saville, he immediately made his mind up to go because he couldn’t really turn down Middlesbrough.
Leonard then came in from Sheffield United and he’s done really well so far. He’s a fan’s player: he’s aggressive, gets stuck in and makes forward runs from midfield. He scored his first goal for the club in the 3-0 win over Ipswich last weekend and he’s done quite well to fill the void. Another summer signing, Tom Bradshaw, is yet to really get his chance because Lee Gregory is playing so well, and Tom Elliott has come into the team recently and been playing some of the best football of his Millwall career.
How does Neil Harris set up his side and can you give us the latest injury news?
It’s going to be 4-4-2 and I think there’s only been two occasions in Neil Harris’ entire time in charge where he hasn’t started with that formation, or a variation of it. There are no injury worries at all at present, but he’s got a small First Team squad for the Championship with just 22 players, so he doesn’t really make many changes.
Harris’ starting line-ups don’t tend to change unless people lose form or get injured. It’ll be direct football, as I’m sure Brentford fans will know from last year. They don’t play the ball in areas around the back where they may get dispossessed because they don’t have the players to do that, so the centre-backs are going to be looking for long diagonal balls to either Tom Elliott or Steve Morison, getting knockdowns, then pushing the midfield forward to start playing in areas where they can hurt the opposition. If the ball goes forward, the wide players then have the freedom to come in off their wings. When they lose the ball and Brentford have a spell of possession, it’ll be 4-4-2 with the strikers dropping deep on to Brentford’s defensive midfielder. They are quite compact, well-drilled when they don’t have the ball and then, when they do, they’ll get it forward very quickly.
What’s your score prediction?
I’ll have to go with Millwall again because they probably should’ve got something at Griffin Park last year. I’ll say 2-1 to The Lions.
For the full chat with John, pick up a copy of your Remembrance-themed matchday programme on Saturday.