Millwall boss on midfield dilemma, changing formation – and odd feeling before the game

GARY Rowett admitted he took a “gamble” by selecting Billy Mitchell over the more defensively-minded Maikel Kieftenbeld as George Saville’s replacement against Stoke on Saturday.

Mitchell, 20, started alongside George Evans in midfield, before Matt Smith came on for the injured Evans with Ryan Leonard moving from right wing-back to the centre of the park.

Kieftenbeld was introduced to form a midfield three late on as the Lions successfully defended a 2-1 lead.

“I took a massive gamble. Maikel and Billy had both done enough to win the shirt,” Rowett said. “Because Sav’s a more attacking player I just felt Billy pushing forward into those areas was something we needed more than Maikel being a little bit more defensive.

“But Kief coming on, he does what you want him to do which is go and block spaces, go and be really aggressive. I thought he used the ball well.

“I think with Lenny in there as well the three of them gave us something to step on to, to win second balls and that took us forward with a bit of momentum.”

Billy Mitchell replaced George Saville in midfield

Daniel Ballard went to right-back in a 4-4-2 when Smith was introduced in the 48th minute, and Rowett said he considered doing that earlier when Stoke started strongly and went in front through Romaine Sawyers 20 minutes in.

“After 15, 20 minutes I nearly put Lenny into midfield, I felt we needed another midfielder in there,” Rowett explained.

“But they were also causing us problems in forward areas with the movement of their front two.

“It’s difficult sometimes, you can’t just magic your way to winning every game. We’ve won four out of five, we’ve lost one game in 10.

“Still, turning up today it felt like we hadn’t won in 10 games, it just felt edgy.

“And actually the players have worked incredibly hard to get results. It’s another one we’ve had to do that.”

The Lions turned it around against Stoke at The Den

Tom Bradshaw scored a second-half double to turn the game around against the Potters, the first coming just three minutes after Smith was sent on.

Rowett added: “It gives us another player forward, it’s something we thought about doing. It changed the game a little bit, getting Smudge up there and Bradders around him.

“I’m aware of that [fans wanting to see four at the back and an extra attacker], it’s something we thought about doing before the game. I know there’s a real clamour to do that at home anyway, I get that, I understand that.

“As a manager you’ve got to find solutions in bad performances.

“We look at everything, we want to win as many games as we can. We’re not wed to one formation, it’s just that one formation has got us in the top 10 for three years in the Championship. So I’d be stupid to lose it and think we should be in the top two.

“I can’t change that [the edgy atmosphere]. We’ve got to perform so that the atmosphere is better. It’s a good win, I don’t know if it was our best win [of the season].

“Three points, every win you’ve happy with. We’ve come back a few times after being down, the team’s got that little bit of resilience.

“We’ve had a good week, two very good performances after the disappointment against Luton. That’s what you’ve got to do, you’ve got to bounce back quickly and not lose more than a game, two games in a row.

“You’ve got to quell that tide. We’ve done that really well since we’ve been here.”

Image: Millwall FC 

John Kelly