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First Team

Hot Off The Press: Millwall

John Kelly of News at Den previews The Lions

16 April 2021

Millwall are ninth in the Championship table at the time of speaking, eight points outside the play-off places with less than a month of the season to go. What have you made of what you’ve seen over the past few months?

In 2021, I think they’ve been absolutely brilliant when you consider that they had a run of one win in 15 league games and, at one point during one game, I think they were four point above third-bottom and they have responded really well since. It has been the same for a lot of clubs but Gary Rowett has not had a full squad to choose from in any game all season and 10 players have missed at least a month of the season. Considering all that, the relatively small squad, the frequency of games and the run they were on that could have kept spiralling if they didn’t have such a good group of characters, they have done fantastically well. Over the last month to six weeks, they have been 12 points off the top six, then 10 and then suddenly they were eight points off sixth. Earlier this month, they were unlucky that many of the other teams around them won because they could have moved to within five. Whatever happens from now on in, the way they have turned this around has been very impressive.

Given the fact they have drawn so many games this season, are you surprised that they are still sat comfortably in the top half and on course to finish there for the third time in four seasons?

I guess the thing is that they have been quite hard to beat. In quite a lot of those draws, they should have turned them into wins, but they just couldn’t see the game out, while some really obviously bad refereeing decisions have gone against them. With those injuries, they maybe haven’t had the players to bring on or rotate to bring that little bit more energy, either. They also haven’t had a goalscorer, the 15-goal man, that could turn even two or three of those draws into wins to take them into the top six. When they were in League One, Lee Gregory and Steve Morison were scoring so many goals but they haven’t had that since. It didn’t work out as planned for Troy Parrott, while Kenneth Zohore has been injured quite a lot. A 15-20 goal striker would have been key in turning some of those draws into wins for Millwall.

How much has the absence of fans at The Den – which is usually a difficult place for teams to come - affected their performances this season?

There have been so many times when they have the momentum and the crowd are massively behind them, driving them over the line. There are not many grounds like The Den that have that intensity and even if they are chasing the game, they are winning the ball back quickly and putting teams under pressure. The crowd are such a positive influence, in that sense. Again, if there had been fans, maybe you could say they would have a few more points, but then again, a lot of clubs could say that. The players and managers do mention it, but it certainly hasn’t been an excuse, and they only really talk about it when they are asked about it.

Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on?

I would say two at the moment. The current front two are Jed Wallace (above) and Mason Bennett, who have played most of their football out wide or in attacking midfield roles, and they have done really well together so far. They have combined really well and have a good understanding that one drops deep and the other goes long. Rowett put them together when Zohore got injured; Matt Smith has mainly been an impact sub, while Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and Tom Bradshaw don’t score enough goals. I think they have been the most impressive in 2021 and if they start, I think they could do a bit of damage to Brentford.

How is Gary Rowett likely to set up his side at the Brentford Community Stadium?

He has switched to a 3-5-2 or 5-3-2, though I guess against Brentford it will likely be the latter, as the Bees will have most of the ball. That was a total switch from 5-2-3 because he felt like he needed to add another midfielder and he brought in Maikel Kieftenbeld from Birmingham to do that. If they have the same players as they do now available, my predicted line-up would be: Bialkowski, McNamara, Evans, M Wallace, Cooper, Malone, Kieftenbeld, Woods, Mitchell, J Wallace, Bennett.

The two sides shared the points after a 1-1 draw in the previous meeting at the end of September last year. What’s your score prediction for the game?

I think I always go for a 1-1 draw, so I’ll go for a 1-0 win for Millwall this time.

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