CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW: Birmingham City vs. Millwall

THERE are several of the Millwall party heading back to familiar territory this Saturday.

Lions boss Gary Rowett faces his old club, along with technical coach Joe Carnall, while Shane Ferguson is an ex-Blues player and Matt Smith – like Carnall – was born in England’s second city.

Connor Mahoney would have swelled that cohort even further but won’t be involved as he picked up a quad injury last Friday.

Millwall have enjoyed fairly happy travels this season, winning three times away from The Den in the league. The Lions have only lost once away this season in seven games in all competitions, 2-1 at Swansea when even then they were denied a clear late penalty.

Rowett’s side haven’t conceded away from home in their last three games, but they have struggled up front this season.

Brum local Smith is hopeful his record against his hometown club continues as the Lions look for a first goal on the road in three games.

Smith has scored four times as an away player at Birmingham, three times for QPR and once for Leeds.

“I really enjoy my one day at St Andrew’s every season. It’s my local team, the team my dad played for and it seems to be the team I have most success against,” Smith said.

“I’ve scored seven against Birmingham over the past few years. I think every striker usually has that one team that they particularly enjoy playing against. For whatever reason mine seems to be Birmingham.

“It’s one that I tend to have better memories of and hopefully that can be the case on Saturday as well.”

Matt Smith heads home against Cardiff

Smith opened his account in the league for the season last Saturday against Cardiff.

He scored 14 times last season, 13 in the league – his best return as a Championship player.

Smith knows that strikers and goalkeepers are judged on the blunt measure of goals scored and clean sheets.

“No one’s going to remember my header led to an own goal [against Luton], no one’s going to remember that I’ve hit the post three times this season or set someone up or had a hand in a goal,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, that’s just the way it goes. You’re judged on the number of times you put the ball in the back of the net.

“It’s something I take very seriously and try to maximise each season and ultimately I always aim to have my best personal return in each season.

“It’s something I take pride in.”

Millwall are set to be without several attacking options. Kenneth Zohore is out, while Mason Bennett is also set to miss the game.

That could give Ben Thompson an attacking chance. Thompson also has happy memories of playing at Birmingham, after scoring both goals in a 2-0 win there in March 2019.

The other major decision for Rowett is whether to play four or five in defence against Aitor Karanka’s side.

Possible Millwall starting XI: 5-3-2: Bialkowski; Leonard, Hutchinson, M Wallace, Cooper, Malone; Woods, Williams; J Wallace, Smith, Parrott.

Match odds: Birmingham 6/5 Draw 12/5 Millwall 7/4

Last meeting: Championship (February 26, 2020): Millwall 0-0 Birmingham

Image: Millwall FC