Preview: Millwall

A laboured performance in drawing with Luton Town at the weekend has done little to garner the impression that Coventry City can close down the gap to the play-offs. There is a lack of clarity to the team’s performances right now, not aided by injuries and a lack of squad depth, and it’s hard to see this set of players achieving anything tangible this year unless something changes dramatically in that regard.

A home game against a Millwall side in the top six and in good form feels almost an exact repeat of the challenge that was faced on Saturday against Luton Town. It is going to be another stern physical test against a team that knows exactly what it wants to achieve on the pitch, if Coventry City cannot find a way to match that, the play-offs will slide further from view.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up (3-4-2-1): Wilson; McNally, McFadzean, Doyle; Norton-Cuffy, Eccles, Hamer, Bidwell; Palmer, Allen; Gyokeres.

Just when Mark Robins thought he had a reasonably strong squad to pick from, injuries to Michael Rose, Ben Sheaf and Jonathan Panzo have weakened his hand, with a suspension for rookie left wing-back, Josh Wilson-Esbrand after Saturday’s red card, a cherry on top of an unwelcome cake. The line-up for this game is likely to continue this season’s theme of only being to put out the team that is available, rather than one that would be desired.

With limited scope for change for this game, the main consideration for Mark Robins is whether to utilise Josh Eccles at right wing-back or in central midfield. The manager has appeared keen to develop Eccles into a right-sided option this season, however, central midfield remains the player’s natural position. After a pretty anonymous performance from Jamie Allen in Ben Sheaf’s place at the weekend, Eccles could well be Gustavo Hamer’s best midfield partner right now. On top of that, it probably provides Mark Robins with handing Matt Godden a breather, by pushing Allen further forward, after the striker looked to be struggling towards the end of Saturday’s game against Luton Town.

Aside from Jake Bidwell taking Josh Wilson-Esbrand’s vacant left wing-back berth, there are almost no other options to change the current starting XI.

Last Time We Met

It was the game that turned an odd, pitch-inflicted, start of the season into a genuinely bad one as Coventry City let what appeared an unassailable lead to Millwall back in August slip out of their grasp. Kyle McFadzean gave the Sky Blues the perfect start, as he turned in a Gustavo Hamer corner-kick delivery in the game’s second minute. With little happening at either end, Matt Godden converting a Jake Bidwell cross around the half-hour mark looked enough to win the game.

Simon Moore, however, began the capitulation just before the half-time whistle, getting nowhere near a set-piece delivery a long way from his goal-line, providing Jake Cooper an open goal to head into. That meant that George Honeyman could level for the home side, after Tyler Burey’s initial shot rebounded off the post. Despite Coventry City managing to turn the momentum of the game around with a spell of possession and chances, Gustavo Hamer got himself sent-off to ensure that the points would be squandered, sealed with a late goal from George Saville – a man who has scored three goals in six career appearances against the Sky Blues.

The Opposition

The Manager – Gary Rowett

Millwall and Gary Rowett seem a match made in heaven. A manager at his best when handed a set of hard-working, no-nonsense underdogs, and a club who have spent much of the past decade only signing those kinds of players. Millwall have quietly gone about establishing themselves in the play-off picture this season, keeping most of their games tight and occasionally rolling the odd unsuspecting opponent over, the Lions are experts in getting the points to tick over.

In what could have been a difficult season following the summer departure of star player, Jed Wallace, Gary Rowett has successfully diversified Millwall’s attacking options to make them better than ever. Now armed with several different ways of winning games, Millwall are much more capable of taking games to opponents when they need to, even if their main aim – especially away from home – will be in keeping the contest tight for as long as possible.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up (4-2-3-1): Long; McNamara, Cresswell, Cooper, Wallace; Saville, Mitchell; Watmore, Flemming, Burke; Bradshaw.

The Dutch attacking midfielder, Zian Flemming, represents Millwall’s direct replacement for Jed Wallace and has enjoyed a positive start to life in England. A tall, goalscoring midfielder, Flemming is competitive in the air and relishes getting shots away at any opportunity. However, Millwall are much more than a one-man team nowadays, with Tom Bradshaw, Andreas Voglsammer, Tyler Burey and George Honeyman, all capable contributors in attack for the Lions.

On top of that, Millwall added two more hard-working, underrated options to their forward options in the January transfer window, in the forms of Duncan Watmore and Oliver Burke. Watmore, a prodigiously hard-running forward player who can play either out wide or as a striker, makes Millwall’s threat from pressing even more dangerous – with George Honeyman already available as a tyro to get in the faces of opposing defenders. Burke is a tall, physically powerful and direct wide player who has the ability to be devastating from the bench.

Then it’s onto that incredibly imposing back-line that Millwall continue to possess, patrolled by the energetic Billy Mitchell and George Saville in the midfield in front of them. That the giant Murray Wallace often plays at left-back highlights the focus at Millwall on effectiveness over aesthetics, while the combination of the aggressive Charlie Cresswell and the powerful Jake Cooper in central defence is an intimidating one that can also threaten at the other end from set-pieces. At right-back, Danny McNamara is free to play with his typical energy pushing forward to support the attack.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

A big part of this Millwall side right now is how much energy they have in forward areas out of possession. With Coventry City possessing central defenders in Luke McNally and Callum Doyle who want to bring the ball out of defence, there is a risk that the Sky Blues could be caught out playing from the back in his game – especially, given that Ben Wilson’s struggles with his distribution from the goalkeeper position may well further encourage Millwall to commit to the press.

Having a good option to progress the ball quickly from back to front is going to be important for Coventry City in this game, with Viktor Gyokeres’ running in attack likely to be the team’s best source of relief from Millwall’s energy. The Swede will need some level of pace and movement around him in order to avoid being left isolated, which Kasey Palmer and Matt Godden have struggled to provide of late. That may add to the argument of not playing Josh Eccles at wing-back, as it would allow Brooke Norton-Cuffy, one of the team’s few available genuinely quick players, to come into the side.

With Millwall possessing a number of really tall and powerful players, set-pieces are going to be the other key area where Coventry City are going to find themselves under pressure in this game. Dead balls have looked a weakness for this team of late, which could prove costly in what might be a tight contest otherwise.

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