JUST over three months ago, this would have looked like an enticing fixture for Millwall to get their top-six challenge back on track.
But Steve Cooper has completely transformed Nottingham Forest as they are now in contention for the play-offs.
Perhaps the biggest mark of their progress is that they are a potential destination for Jed Wallace. It would have been laughable last September to think that would be the case for a player whose ambition it is to play in the Premier League.
Forest further underlined their credentials by beating 2020 winners Arsenal 1-0 in the third round of the FA Cup last weekend.
Former Millwall striker Lewis Grabban scored the 83rd-minute winner, and he spoke recently about the impact Cooper has made.
“There is a tiny bit of pressure [when a new manager comes in]” Grabban told The Athletic. “For me, it is slightly different because I am a senior player here. I have seen this before. But there is still pressure, you want to have a good first few training sessions and show the new boss what you have got. Cooper certainly did that with the players.”
Forest lost just one of Cooper’s first 15 league games in charge starting with the 1-1 draw against the Lions at The City Ground in September.
They have stuttered recently, losing their last two, 2-0 away to Middlesbrough and 1-0 at home to Huddersfield Town.
But that win over the Gunners will have them heading to The Den with confidence.
Millwall gave it their best shot against Crystal Palace but unlike Forest couldn’t produce a cup upset.
The Lions have lost four of their last six games in all competitions. They have fallen seven points off sixth but do have two games in hand on sixth-place Huddersfield.
Gary Rowett’s side need to rediscover their resilience quickly. They have scored in their last 10 games – with Tom Bradshaw and Benik Afobe netting nine times in that period – but they have only kept five clean sheets all season.
Not only have they been inconsistent from game to game, they can be inconsistent from half to half. They have been in front at the break in three of their last four games only to lose all three.
Murray Wallace is set to return to the squad this week after missing the Palace match. He is puzzled by Millwall’s lack of consistency.
“I’m not too sure what it is,” Wallace said. “We win one, we lose one. We went through a period when we had drawn a lot of games and we were looking at it like it’s better to win one and lose one than to draw six in a row.
“But obviously to get any kind of momentum you’ve got to back up a win with another win or draw.
“Unfortunately we’re just not managing to do that. I don’t know what it is. The other day leading [against Bristol City], we felt like we deserved the lead and were probably the better team, and then they get it back to 2-2.
“Maybe then we think we’ve got to go and win the game straightaway and we become just a little bit loose with our shape and discipline and open it up for them to go on and win it rather than us.”
George Saville is a doubt for the weekend after going off against Crystal Palace following a blow to his back.
Jed Wallace is back in training as speculation continues over his future this month.
Possible Millwall starting XI: 5-2-1-2: Bialkowski; McNamara, Hutchinson, Cooper, M Wallace, Malone; Mitchell, Kieftenbeld; Ojo; Bradshaw, Afobe.
Match odds: Millwall 6/5 Draw 12/5 Forest 2/1
Last meeting: Championship (September 25, 2021): Nottingham Forest 1-1 Millwall (Lowe 52’; Smith 32’).
Image: Millwall FC