Opinion: Millwall in better position than in last two seasons – so are you not entertained?

MILLWALL’S draw against Derby County last Saturday was their 17th league game of the season and 13th in which they haven’t been beaten.

Gary Rowett’s side have lost just two of their last 13 matches in the Championship and have won five of their last eight.

The Lions have come from behind to claim points in five games. Fans are back and they have seen their side win three matches with goals in the 89th, 90th and 92nd minutes.

If he meant it, Jed Wallace has already scored the goal of the season, with his shot from wide on the right touchline against Sheffield United in the 2-1 win at Bramall Lane. He started the campaign by opening the scoring with a 25-yard belter in the sunshine at Loftus Road.

At this point in the last two seasons Millwall were 10th and 17th. Millwall are three points off fifth place as we approach halfway through the season next month.

So, to borrow a line, are you not entertained?

The answer at the moment seems to be, ‘meh, not really’.

That can partly be explained by the kind of football Millwall play, but what would you expect?

This was never going to be a side that was going to play neat, pretty football, all triangles and different angles of passing around the pitch.

Millwall know what they are and they are staying true to it. In Rowett’s preferred 5-2-3 formation, they are mostly a counter-attacking team with three muscular centre-backs who are a threat from set-pieces, and one attacking wing-back in Scott Malone with usually a more conservative option on the other flank.

The midfielders’ main job is to screen in front and then, usually George Saville, try to arrive in the box for crosses and cut-backs as Saville did well against the Rams only to fail to find the target.

Up front, Millwall have the brilliance of Wallace and the promise of Sheyi Ojo. If Mason Bennett could stay fit we know he can be an explosive player who in the second half of last season regularly added goals to his game.

Jake Cooper scored an injury-time winner against Sheffield United

It might sound harsh on Benik Afobe, Matt Smith and Tom Bradshaw but the central striking position remains an issue. Millwall’s top-scoring centre-forward this season is Afobe with three. Smith and Bradshaw have a pair of goals each.

You have to scroll down a long way to see where that puts them in the chart. A lot further than joint-19th, where the Lions’ top-scorer this season Wallace is with five.

Rowett tried to address that last season by bringing in Troy Parrott and Kenneth Zohore on loan from Tottenham and West Bromwich Albion. Neither worked, the latter failing to score before going back to Spurs in January and Zohore netting just three times.

Afobe and Ojo arrived in the summer on loan deals from Stoke and Liverpool and while they are bright, positive players the output hasn’t quite been there yet. Ojo has two assists so far but needs to be more of a goal threat.

Another problem has been how Millwall have started games. It’s as if they have been feeling out opponents, skulking around the ring throwing out the odd jab. They haven’t scored in the first half of a league game at The Den this season.

Rowett said after they came from behind in the second half to beat Stoke City 2-1 that they “thrived on the chaos”. Fans would ask, so why can’t we do that all the time?

The answer is a team can’t come out from the first whistle with whirling arms and throwing haymakers. They will eventually be picked off. It’s much easier to inject some chaos into the game when you’re into the second half, already behind and essentially with nothing to lose. There has to be more control but it’s balancing that with what this team are good at: getting after teams and getting the fans at The Den behind them and unsettling the opposition.

The Lions have won five of their last eight games

The other factor in the tetchiness in some home games could be down to how long supporters were away. They came back last season, though only for two games with capacities capped at 2,000. Then they were gone again as the UK entered yet another lockdown.

There is therefore perhaps some impatience, willing their team to make up for their – the fans’ – lost time watching on iFollow or catching up with highlights shows.

Then there are simply raised expectations. Millwall have finished eighth and 11th and Rowett has not shied away from saying he demands a top-six challenge.

Well, that’s what they are delivering at the moment, and if they can maintain that deep into the season then there shouldn’t be too many complaints.

Image: Millwall FC 

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John Kelly