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Opposition Preview - Millwall
Written by ad_wilkin on Tuesday, 28th Nov 2023 18:47

It’s another team looking to continue a new manager bounce as Millwall visit Portman Road on Wednesday night.

Millwall parted company with Gary Rowett with the club sat in 15th place in the Championship following a mixed start to the season that had seen them only win four games. Ambitions at the club would have been to build on last season's eighth-place finish but this has not been the case with the Lions currently sat in 18th.

Replacing Rowett is a manager in a very similar mould to Kieran McKenna. Joe Edwards is taking on his first senior managerial role at the Den but has an impressive coaching resumé up until this point having managed the Chelsea U18s and U23s before becoming assistant manager at the club under Frank Lampard and then following the England legend to Everton.

He then again moved with Lampard back to Chelsea to assist him in that interim period before taking another interim role himself with England U20s.

Edwards couldn’t have asked for a better start with the Lions, his side demolishing Sheffield Wednesday 4-0 away in his first game in charge. It’s hard to read too much into that with Wednesday sitting on a measly six points after 16 games following that result.

The Lions have since been brought down to earth with a 3-0 defeat against fellow struggles Coventry (who Town face at Portman Road on Saturday).


There’s a familiar face in goal currently for the Lions and 36-year-old Bartosz Bialkowski has stepped in to replace the injured Matija Sarkic.

The Pole had a shaky start to the season with a very poor performance in the Carabao Cup defeat to Reading but now he has consistent football under his belt once again he has looked very impressive, recapturing the form that saw him win triple back-to-back Player of the Year awards at Portman Road.

He’s made 38 saves in 12 games and has a goals prevented metric of 3.62 which is the second highest in the league behind Town’s Vaclav Hladky.

It will be his first competitive return to Portman Road since leaving the club, although he was back in Suffolk for the July 2021 friendly between the clubs, which the Lions won 3-0, and also faced the Super Blues in a 1-1 friendly draw at the Den the following summer.

The man he has replaced Sarkic suffered a quad injury that meant he had to withdraw from international duty with Montenegro and looks set to be out until December.

The 26-year-old joined Millwall this season from Wolverhampton Wanderers in an attempt to find a permanent home following loan spells with Shrewsbury, Birmingham and Stoke, who were also interested in his signature over the summer.

Filling in on the bench for now is 27-year-old Connal Trueman, who joined on a free from Birmingham in 2022. He only has 14 Championship appearances to his name so is unlikely to be pushing Bialkowski for that starting berth.


As with most clubs these days Millwall have played multiple formations across the course of the season. I’m going to go through the players and where they fit in their current most used 4-4-2 formation that they have operated in for the last four games.

Even within that formation there has been a difference in profile of player used in the right-back position with the solid Danny McNamara playing some and the more expressive Brooke Norton-Cuffy taking that place in others.

McNamara, a 24-year-old Irishman, has been with Millwall his whole career and broke into the team in the 2020/21 season. He’s become a key member of the team for the last three seasons including this one with 37, 42 and 11 appearances so far, bringing his Millwall total to 111.

Norton-Cuffy is now on his third loan away from Premier League side Arsenal, following up from spells at Rotherham and beaten play-off finalists Coventry City.

At Coventry he played as a wing-back as the Sky Blues operated with a back three, with his powerful running and dribbling ability good attributes for that role.

At the Den he has been used occasionally in that role but also as an out-and-out right-back and even a right midfielder, playing in front of McNamara against Southampton and Watford. He netted his first goal of the season in the 4-0 victory against Sheffield Wednesday having failed to score in either of his spells with Rotherham or Coventry.

Where there has been more consistency recently is in the Lions' centre-back pairing of captain Jake Cooper and Wes Harding.

Cooper, 28, has been with Millwall since 2017, racking up 317 appearances and scoring an impressive 22 goals. With more than 66% of those being headers it is safe to say he is an aerial threat and will need to be watched closely from set pieces. Even more so because he’s yet to get off the mark this season despite having an xG of 0.94.

Jamaican Harding provides a right-footed balance to that pairing with Cooper being naturally left-footed. He’s a new signing at the Den having joined on a free from Rotherham this summer.

Harding had to wait for his opportunity in the team at the start of the season but since starting against Plymouth at the beginning of October, he has gone on to start all of the next seven games.

He’s also currently in goalscoring form that strikers aim for with three goals in his last five appearances, making him the Lions' second-highest goalscorer.

Due to Joe Bryan's injury, Murray Wallace is currently filling in at left-back having previously played as the left-sided centre-back in a back three towards the start of the season.

Wallace is a player who is comfortable in both roles and is another who has become part of the furniture at Millwall and is going into his sixth season with club. He recently joined the 200 Club with his start in the last match against Coventry and was the third member of this backline to be on the scoresheet against Sheffiled Wednesday, heading in his first goal of the season. He’ll no doubt be relishing the challenge of taking on a fit-again Wes Burns.

Bryan is now back on the grass but is unlikely to feature against Town as it’s a slow recovery process. The former Bristol City and Fulham man is now 30 and knows the Championship very well having made 209 appearances.

Those appearances have come with 25 assists and 11 goals with his set-piece delivery a well-known threat. He joined Millwall on a free transfer this summer with his contract at Fulham having expired and provides a more expressive attacking full-back option on the left to the more defensive Wallace when he is fit.

Shaun Hutchinson is the final man in the Millwall defensive unit and is another one who is on his way back from injury. The 32-year-old captained the side for the first five games before suffering a knee injury that has kept him out until now. He was back on the bench for games against Southampton, Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry but didn’t get any minutes.

His time at Millwall goes back to July 2016 when he signed on a free transfer from Fulham when the Lions were in League One and he has now made 248 appearances for the club.


As we move into the midfield, I’m going to start with the central players. Millwall’s main starter in this position is Caspar De Norre, who has made 14 starts so far this season.

De Norre is a new signing having joined from Belgian side Oud-Heverlee Leuven this summer and has made the move to England and settled in effortlessly.

He came in and has cemented his place in the first team since Leeds in September and has made the most tackles and passes of all of his midfield teammates, proving to be an all-rounder in that holding role, sitting there to break up play but also able to get Millwall moving with his passing.

Alongside him in the last couple of games was George Saville, who provides the left-footed balance to that midfield. Based on his heatmap for the season, he plays a similar sort of role as Massimo Luongo, drifting out wide a lot to overload the left-hand side.

He netted his first goal of the season in the 4-0 win against Sheffield Wednesday and will hope that is enough to keep his place in a midfield unit that was rotated regularly under old boss Gary Rowett.

Saville has had a stop-start career at Millwall having joined the side from Wolves on loan in 2015, having that loan cut short in January before joining permanently in 2017.

He only stayed for a year before going out on loan to Middlesbrough and then making a permanent move after six months for £8 million. He returned to the Den in July 2021 for a cut price £1.5 million, coming back to a place where he clearly feels settled and with some Millwall fans seeing him as a future captain of the side.

Another option in the middle of the park is Allan Campbell. The 25-year-old Scotsman joined on loan from Luton this summer. He made 86 appearances for the Hatters, scoring 14 goals and assisting six playing across a number of positions across midfield.

That versatility has also been used so far this season with Campbell featuring as a holding midfielder, an attacking midfielder and also playing one game wide on the right. He looks to have fallen out of favour and hasn’t featured at all in the last five games.

Ryan Leonard has been at Millwall since 2018 but has only broken the 20-appearance mark in two of his five whole seasons so far. Despite being a natural midfielder, most of his appearances this season have come at centre-back in a back three.

However, he picked up an injury in the October international break but made a return to action, coming off the bench against Sheffield Wednesday for the last six minutes and provides an option to shore up both midfield and defence off the bench.

Also in the mix for that central role is Millwall academy graduate Billy Mitchell. Mitchell has been a key member of the squad for the past two seasons with 42 appearances in 2021/22 and 36 appearances in 2022/23, but with the additions of De Norre and Campbell has struggled more for game time this season.

He started the first six games but has struggled for playing time since and will be looking to impress again under a new manager in an attempt to force his was back into the team.

With the switch to a 4-4-2 in Edwards's first game against Sheffield Wednesday, it was George Honeyman and Ryan Longman playing on either wing.

Right-footed Honeyman has two League One promotions to his name with Sunderland and Hull City but has also featured at a higher level for both sides as well as Millwall, bringing his total Championship appearances to 161.

At his former clubs he mainly played as an attacking midfielder and although he’s featured there a few times for Millwall, he’s mainly played on either wing.

Honeyman suffered a tendon tear in the opening game of pre-season and that has limited his appearances, however he has now started the last four before being withdraw around the 60-minute mark in all of them to manage his game time.

On the other side, Ryan Longman is looking for minutes having joined on loan in the summer from Hull City. The 23-year-old has two seasons of Championship football experience with Hull but slowly fell out of favour last season and didn’t play significant minutes in the last nine games.

He’s been in and out of the starting line-up since joining on loan, featuring on the left-hand side of the midfield four mainly. He was Millwall's stand-out player in their 3-0 defeat to Leeds and then scored his first goal of the season in the 3-0 win against Rotherham, but has gone off the boil a bit since those two games.

Longman does, however, look to have found favour with the new manager with Edwards starting him on the left-hand side of midfield in his first two games in charge.

Another player who provides depth on the right-hand side and can also play as a number 10 is Romain Esse. The 18-year-old has come through the youth team at Millwall and got his first taste of senior football last season.

Esse has made one start but another 11 appearances off of the bench so far and has featured for the England U19s in recent international breaks. With Edwards's pedigree of developing young players, he’s a player Millwall fans have high hopes for under the new manager.


In recent games Millwall have played with more of a front two, utilising Zian Flemming, who is more of a natural midfielder, up front just behind Tom Bradshaw. It has been effective so far with Flemming currently leading the Lions' scoring charts with four goals.

The 25-year-old Dutchman will be looking to surpass his 15-goal tally from last season when he took to Championship football like a duck to water having signed from Fortuna Sittard.

He’s an intelligent player and covers the pitch well, he’s adept with both feet, can score from long range and even netted three free-kicks last season, meaning he’s an all-round threat and one of Millwall's star men.

Welshman Bradshaw surpassed Flemming’s 15-goal total last season by one making it his best scoring season in five years at the club. This season has not started quite as well with only one goal and fewer touches per 90 than any previous season at the club, down to 22. Flemming for comparison has double that with 45.2 touches per 90.

Despite that he is still trusted perhaps due to lack of alternatives and has started 11 games so far this season. Another aspect that could explain why he’s played so many games this season is his press with some Millwall fans claiming he is the best pressing forward in the league.

Duncan Watmore would be a potential alternative in that position, but the 29-year-old has been missing since suffering an injury against Hull. That’s a blow to Millwall as he was just hitting some form with a goal and an assist in the last two games before he got injured.

That injury is also likely to have played some part in the formation switch with Watmore’s versatility seeing him play on the left as the number ten and as the central striker.

Watmore made his return off the bench against Coventry and with games now coming thick and fast, he will be hoping to start this one.

Completing the squad in the forward positions are two strikers who haven’t featured as much in recent games, but with a new manager now in place will be hoping to impress and force their way into the side.

Kevin Nisbet is a new signing, joining from Hibernian this summer having scored 27 goals in 87 Scottish Premiership games. He started 10 of the first 11 games, scoring twice, but missing five big chances and only played a total of 20 minutes in the five games leading up to the international break.

He was given a longer run-out against Coventry and is seen by fans as more of a poacher who can find space in tight games than someone who will press backlines.

Also pushing for more starts is Aidomo Emakhu. The young Irishman signed from Shamrock Rovers in January 2023 and has made 14 appearances since then. His natural position is a striker but he’s had to make do with coming on down the left-hand side.

His form for the Ireland U21s will have put him in good stead with a superb performance against Norway in the recent international break, which saw him come away with a goal and an assist playing in a front two alongside QPR striker Sinclair Armstrong.

The Teams

McKenna has hinted in press conferences that there will be rotation in this group of games as well as the fact that they’ve been planning training looking a bit further in advance than previously.

Will that rotation extend to the goalkeepers and see Christian Walton come in against teams who hit longer balls and are more effective on set plays? I don’t think so. Vaclav Hladky has been excellent this season and unless his form drops I think Walton will have to bide his time.

Harry Clarke did excellently when Brandon Williams was out with flu but the former Manchester United man has hardly put a foot wrong when he’s been in.

The other potential to consider is if Leif Davis, who has started 16 out of 17 games so far, is considered to need a rest.

With all of that in mind, I'm going for a back four of Clarke, Luke Woolfenden, Axel Tuanzebe and Williams with this also being a good game to build the Woolfenden and Tuanzebe partnership.

I think it will be more familiar down the rest of the pitch though with Sam Morsy and Massimo Luongo in midfield, Wes Burns on the right, Conor Chaplin in the middle and George Hirst up front.

I’d like to see Dane Scarlett given a go as the left-sided 10 as he’s impressed in his cameos so far and deserves to be given a chance.

For Millwall, Edwards stuck with his team that beat Sheffield Wednesday for the Coventry match but could use this one as a chance to look at other options following a 3-0 defeat.

Bialkowski will start in goal with Sarkic injured. Defensively Millwall have limited option and the only real decision is whether McNamara or Norton-Cuffy starts at right-back. I think Edwards wil be looking to slowly implement his style so the back four will stay unchanged (Norton-Cuffy, Harding, Cooper, Wallace).

De Norre and Saville look to be developing into a good midfield partnership so they’ll start but there could be changes on the wings.

I can see both Watmore and Emakhu coming in on the right and left respectively. Watmore to bring the experience and running to double up on Town’s left-hand side and Emakhu to show what he can do attacking what has been Town’s most exposed side in home games.

With the pressing likely to be needed from Millwall in this one, I think Bradshaw and Flemming will continue as the front two with Nisbet looking to make an impact off of the bench.

Action Areas

Much like against West Brom, Town are likely to face a mid-block with four attackers attempting to counter when they win the ball back.

Against West Brom the midfield was left quite unsupported at times and I think having an inverted Williams there will help fill the midfield and open up the left-sided attacking player or even Luongo/Taylor if he starts to drift out further left.

Pace will be needed in the left centre-half role to cover Norton-Cuffy's runs as Millwall will look to overload that right-hand side.

With Flemming playing just off of Bradshaw, he’ll drift into space in between the defensive and midfield lines and it will be important for the communication between Morsy and Woolfenden to be on-point as they hand him off, with Morsy either needing to cover or Woolfenden needing to step in.

With Town suffering only their second defeat of the season at the weekend, they should be fired up for this one. Portman Road is a special place under the lights with the midweek league trip here seeing arguably their best performance of the season against Hull.

I think all of this adds up to a game that is still tight but one that Town will be looking to comfortably take maximum points from. I’m going 2-0 to the Super Blues.

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