A 2-0 defeat to Preston North End brought back unwelcome memories of the early part of the season. While there was some encouragement about the way we moved the ball around the pitch, a lack of decisiveness meant the end product was no greater than our most recent defensive performances while leaving ourselves prone to being picked off at the other end of the pitch.
With teams below us in the table starting to pick up form, we could do with a win in this upcoming trip to Millwall to avoid getting dragged back into the relegation battle. At the very least, demonstrating that we can score goals – after a four-game scoreless run – would be a good start, especially against a Millwall side that don’t concede many.
The dilemma for Mark Robins is whether to continue with a 3-5-1-1 formation that has shown promise for patches of the past two games or breaks that up by introducing an extra striker and going a little more direct in the search for goals.
Given the physicality of this Millwall side, one change that is almost certain is Sam McCallum taking Ryan Giles’ place at left wing-back. It may have been a coincidence that we looked more open defensively against Preston North End with the more attack-minded Giles on the left of the defence, but it seems a no-brainer to opt for the more physical McCallum for this game.
If we are to go for two up front, Maxime Biamou is likely to come into the side in place of Ben Sheaf. It wouldn’t just be as a punishment for the costly mistake he made for Preston’s first goal, but that he is probably the most expendable of the four midfielders we are currently starting – as reflected by Mark Robins’ recent substitutions. Whether a midfield two of Gustavo Hamer and Jamie Allen would offer enough of a physical presence remains to be seen, but it is something worth trying in the absence of Liam Kelly.
Last Time We Met
It was in the deep dark days of Russell Slade’s disastrous spell at the club that we last took on Millwall. With the South London side bang in form towards a push for promotion via the play-offs, the result was a foregone conclusion.
With fan anger against SISU at full height, the game was disrupted via a torrent of tennis balls from protesting supporters, with Millwall scoring from a corner-kick as soon as the game restarted. Although the Russell Slade’s Sky Blues had a few chances to level the scores, Millwall eventually killed the game off via Steve Morison tucking in a rebound from an initial shot by a team-mate.
The Manager – Gary Rowett
With Millwall one of the lesser-resourced clubs in the Championship, Gary Rowett has done an impressive job in the 14 months he’s been in charge at The Den in raising the level of expectation around the place. After turning the team around from relegation contenders to play-off outsiders last season, some astute summer additions had many tipping this Millwall side to be one of the Championship’s dark horses this time out. However, a lack of cutting edge in attack has left the team treading water in mid-table.
Taking the hard-working and sturdy template left to him by his predecessor, Neil Harris, Gary Rowett has looked to evolve Millwall’s style to be a little more proactive but, without the players to play open, expansive football, has fallen back on keeping things tight and looking to outcompete opponents with the natural physicality of this squad.
Who To Look Out For
This Millwall side is built from a rock-solid, experienced and physically dominant defensive unit. With the lightning reflexes of Bartosz Bialkowski behind them in goal, the centre-back trio of Jake Cooper, Shaun Hutchinson, and Murray Wallace (sometimes deployed at left-back) can be absolutely imperious when on top form. Furthermore, with all three being of the hulking, giant variety of centre-back, it gives Millwall a huge threat from set-piece situations.
The plan this season had been to take that solid defensive unit and use the pace of right-back, Mahlon Romeo, the skill of winger Connor Mahoney, the goal threat of attacking midfielder, Jed Wallace, and the passing range of Ryan Woods in the centre of the park to build a more fluent, attacking unit. However, the lack of a predatory centre-forward has meant Gary Rowett has opted for the more combative duo of Shaun Williams and Ryan Leonard in the middle of the park.
In attack, Millwall have recently moved towards a pairing of the hard-working and awkwardly physical, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, with the mobile poacher, Tom Bradshaw. The two have developed a good understanding, which leaves the option of deploying the dominant, bustling figure of Matt Smith from the bench to bulldoze through tired defences. In addition, Tottenham Hotspur starlet, Troy Parrott was signed on loan in the summer to much hype and could be another game-changer for Millwall even if he has struggled for form as a result of an injury early in the campaign.
Where This Game Will Be Won Or Lost
It’s hard to be too optimistic about our chances of creating much against a physical and experience Millwall side. Mark Robins may well look to play two up top and go more direct in order to replicate the formula that was used so successfully against Rotherham United recently, but that would rely upon Maxime Biamou winning most of his challenges against Millwall’s dominant centre-backs, as well as Gustavo Hamer and Jamie Allen imposing themselves as a midfield two.
At the other end of the pitch, avoiding defensive errors that could hand Millwall the opportunity to sit on their lead will be important after the regression we saw against Preston North End. This game is likely to be a stern inspection of our ability to defend set-pieces, with Millwall’s centre-backs a huge threat from dead-ball situations.
In just what shape Millwall will be after having missed the last two games as a result of a Covid outbreak in their squad remains to be seen. From a Coventry City perspective, the concern is that they will be fresher for having avoided playing over the festive period. However, being unable to train for the full period – and possibly suffering the lasting effects from the virus – may prove to be more of a detriment to Millwall than it is an advantage.