Championship preview: Blackpool vs. Millwall – Lions quickly need wins to avoid ‘transition’ feeling

IF Millwall fall any further off the play-off places then this season is in danger of entering ‘transition’ territory.

But a transition to what is the big question.

The Lions were promoted to the Championship in 2017 and in the four full seasons since they have flirted with the top six late into three of them.

It’s the next step that’s the big one, actually getting there.

It’s about how do they do it.

Last Saturday’s opponents, Nottingham Forest, acted decisively early in this transfer window. Buoyed by their run since Steve Cooper took charge – when the team were bottom of the league – they signed striker Keinan Davis on loan from Aston Villa and defender Steve Cook from AFC Bournemouth. They are big statements in this division. They are signings designed to try to take the team to the next level in the Championship.

Stoke City quickly brought in Phil Jagielka after he left Derby and Lewis Baker from Chelsea on permanent deals. They also signed defender Taylor Harwood-Bellis on loan from Manchester City.

Middlesbrough loaned Aaron Connolly from Brighton & Hove Albion and Folarin Balogun from Arsenal, players with Premier League experience.

Why pick out those sides and their January transfer business? They are clubs Millwall are trying to compete with for a place in the play-offs. Finish above them this season and there is a good chance that will be enough for the top six.

This isn’t to be critical of Millwall. Those clubs have much more financial might than the Lions and, though it might be unpalatable to admit, are bigger draws for players in terms of their stadiums and their current potential.

And it’s not to say Millwall won’t end up reflecting on a successful window. The Lions have shown their ambition by bidding for Derby’s Louie Sibley and Zian Flemming of Dutch side Fortuna Sittard.

The problem is those players mentioned above have already made impacts and helped their sides to wins last weekend. And when the race for the top six is so competitive and close, three points at this stage of the season can make a big difference. Had Millwall beaten Forest – and Benik Afobe went so close to getting what surely would have been the winner moments before the visitors scored the only goal in injury-time – they would be six points off Middlesbrough in sixth with a game in hand.

Sheyi Ojo is out

Millwall are probably in their most difficult spell of the season on the back of three consecutive defeats, uncertainty over whether Jed Wallace will still be at the club next month and injury problems.

How they could do with a repeat of the result between the sides earlier this season when Jake Cooper (above) scored a last-minute winner.

Whatever about his future at the club, Wallace is an injury doubt as is George Saville. The Lions have also lost Tom Bradshaw and Sheyi Ojo for most of the rest of the season.

Their backs are to the wall heading to the Seasiders this weekend – they need to pull out a big performance.

Possible Millwall starting XI: 5-2-3: Bialkowski; McNamara, Hutchinson, Cooper, M Wallace, Malone; Mitchell, Evans; Thompson; Bennett, Afobe.

Match odds: Blackpool 6/4 Draw 7/4 Millwall 6/5

Last meeting: Championship (August 28, 2021): Millwall 2-1 Blackpool (J Wallace 64, Cooper 90; Lavery 56).

Image: Millwall FC 

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John Kelly

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