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Opposition Preview - Millwall (Away)
Written by ad_wilkin on Tuesday, 13th Feb 2024 14:51

Valentine's Day at the Den, what could be more romantic that that? That’s Ipswich’s situation on Wednesday as they take on a Lions side trying to avoid being dragged into a relegation battle.

It’s not quite been a fairytale romance since Joe Edwards took over at the Den but he has managed to keep them out of trouble so far whilst trying to implement a more possession-based style, asking his players to play out from the back.

Previous Match (Ipswich 3-1 Millwall)

Town made a statement in this game coming flying out of the blocks and wrapping up victory by half-time with goals from Conor Chaplin, Massimo Luongo and Nathan Broadhead and then looking solid and composed to see out the second half, despite conceding a consolation goal scored by Kevin Nisbet.

Town had 60% of possession and 19 shots, seven of which were on target and never looked threatened.

On a cold and foggy winter evening it was Town who sparked to life early on with a deep Wes Burns cross meeting the head of George Hirst, who instead of going for goal, laid off a perfectly-weighted ball for Chaplin to sweep home a lovely finish, striking the ball down into the ground sending it skidding past Bartosz Bialkowski in goal.

Ipswich soon added a second with a fine attacking move which involved Luongo, Chaplin and Hirst before the ball got swept out to the right hand side with Burns again.

The Wales international cut the ball back to Chaplin, who was in space once again but he was being closed down so instead of shooting took a touch an played it into the path of Luongo on the edge of the box. Luongo took one touch to steady himself before side footing a strong left-footed effort into the corner that left Bialkowski standing and watching.

Hirst and Chaplin then both had chances with Burns still terrorising down that right-hand side before Millwall had their first real chance of the game, Norton Cuffy dribbling all the way into the penalty area and trying to beat Vaclav Hladky at his near post with a left-footed effort. The Czech keeper was more than up to the strike though and palmed it round the post.

Ryan Longman then also got in between Harry Clarke and Axel Tuanzebe and forced another save from Hladky as Millwall started to warm up.

Burns then struck the post and skipper Sam Morsy had a shot saved as Town looked to respond before the Blues finally got the third. Cameron Burgess stepped out of defence to intercept a long ball, strode forward before laying it off to Leif Davis, who drilled a cross right onto the head of Nathan Broadhead. The Welshman leapt high and sent his head back across the keeper who once again was helpless to stop it.

The second half was less effective from an attacking sense with Town resorting to more long-range shots, Hirst, Luongo and Chaplin all having a go from outside the box with varying success.

Town then made their standard second-half changes but didn’t lose momentum with Luongo firing another shot narrowly wide and Marcus Harness getting into a good position in the box but having his shot blocked.

Millwall finally got their consolation goal when Longman broke down the left, his step-overs bamboozled Clarke, allowing him the space to cross to Nisbet, who despite being surrounded by both Burgess and Davis, somehow managed to hook his shot in between them and past Hladky.

There was still time in the game for both Dane Scarlett and Harness to test Bialkowski. It was one of Scarlett’s brief hints of quality during his time at Town as he expertly controlled, swivelled and got his shot away only to find Bialkowski’s legs in the way.

What's Changed

Edwards took over at the Den in November and the match against Ipswich at Portman Road was only his third in charge. Since then he has had time to implement his style since replacing Gary Rowett.

Three draws and two losses following the game against Town wasn’t the ideal start but a very good spell over the Christmas period has moved Millwall away from danger a bit. Victories over QPR, Norwich and Bristol City returned an excellent nine points.

However, since then there has been another drop-off. An FA Cup defeat to Leicester was followed by losses to Middlesbrough and a damaging one to QPR.

Tough games against Preston and Hull have resulted in a 1-1 draw and a 1-0 defeat and the games against the play-off challengers don’t stop there with a trip to Coventry Sunday lunchtime. It wasn’t the worst performance from Millwall and an early goal gave them something to hold onto, however, Coventry went up a gear in the second half and a brace from Hadji Wright saw the Lions slip to a 2-1 defeat.

They also made a couple of eye-catching loan signings in the January window. First was Japhet Tanganga, who has made 50 appearances for Tottenham without really forcing himself into the first team on a regular basis.

He only made four senior appearances last season and has been completely frozen out under Postecoglu. A bit like Tuanzebe for Town, he’s a player with pedigree having featured in the Champions League last 16 but has struggled with various injuries.

Tanganga played 20 minutes against QPR and has then started the next three as he looks to get consistent football for the first time in his career. He’s not made the best start to his Millwall career, conceding a penalty in his last match against Coventry as he tried to shield the ball away from Wright but instead bundled him to floor.

The other is a striker who knows the Championship well with 17 goals in 65 appearances across spells at Swansea and Burnley. Michael Obafemi is still only 23 years old and like Tanganga has also had a few injury problems in his young career.

He was a bit part player for Burnley as they got promoted to the Premier League and has struggled for game time in the Premier League.

Obefemi will be looking to refind his form from the 2021/22 season in which he scored 12 goals in 32 appearances. He’ll be hoping to get a run of games and hopefully find the net to try and force his way back into the Republic of Ireland squad and add to his 11 caps.

They also signed 18-year-old Adam Mayor from Morecambe. He’s clearly seen as more of one for the future but made his debut off the bench in the last game against Coventry. He had three goals and five assists in League Two before he made the move.

Key Players

Zian Flemming

The Dutch attacking midfielder has been moved into his favoured number 10 role since Edwards took charge as opposed to the false nine that he was playing under Rowett.

He has five goals and three assists this season in the league and notched both a goal and an assist in the 3-2 FA Cup defeat to Leicester.

It says a lot about Millwall’s style of play that his highest metrics for attacking midfielders are interceptions and touches in the defensive third which shows how deep Millwall sit.

He’s also a good outball with a 59% of aerial duels won. In the last game against Town he was well marshalled and unable to get any shots away.

Casper De Norre

Millwall's answer to Sam Morsy, the 27-year-old Belgian is the anchor in the Lions' midfield. He gets stuck in and wins plenty of tackles and interceptions (making six in the last game against Coventry).

His aerial percentages are high but he also adds progressive passes to his game. Getting his team moving up the pitch with decent success rate on both his short and long passes.

Where he isn’t quite as good as the Egyptian is with his goalscoring. Morsy will chip in with at least a few goals a season, whereas De Norre is yet to get off the mark.

Joe Bryan

The former Premier League left-back was injured for the first match against Town. He came back in around December time and has started four of the last five.

Bryan got an assist against Leicester in the FA Cup and opened the scoring against Middlesbrough. With Edwards sticking with five at the back, it allows Bryan to play as a more advanced wing-back, which suits his skillset.

He also brings excellent set-piece delivery. His goals and shots per 90 are up there with the best full-backs in the league, but he’s also made 1.5 key passes per game and makes 6.24 crosses per 90 with his threat down the wing proving to be an important attacking outlet for the Lions.

He is also solid defensively and another high-quality player that will need to be looked out for.

The Teams

After the West Brom game I think there’s at very least an argument for a change in goal. Looking at Hladky’s goals prevented metric it’s clear to see he has had a serious dip in form.

All season: -1.76 West Brom: -1.12 Preston: -2.73 Last 5: -2.7 Last 10: -4.51

Shots conceded against Preston, West Brom and Norwich have made the biggest impact on those negative numbers and Town have conceded all seven of their last seven shots on target faced (two of those were against Christian Walton in the FA Cup).

It’s that wider theme of poor defending that means I think Kieran McKenna will stick with Hladky but it’s definitely a worrying trend.

The rest of the back four has been very stable recently but with Millwall’s aerial threat this could be a good game for Cameron Burgess to come back in for.

Luke Woolfenden didn’t have the best of games against West Brom but Tuanzebe has also looked off it a bit and it would be a surprise if McKenna changed both defenders, so I'm going for a back four of Clarke, Woolfenden, Burgess and Davis.

In midfield, Morsy is a sure-fire starter. This could have been a good game for the injured Jack Taylor but I think the midfield of Morsy and Luongo will be unchanged for this one.

At the top of the pitch, Kieffer Moore will keep his place but behind him is anyone’s guess. It’s likely McKenna will make some changes to freshen it up.

Omari Hutchinson’s substitute appearance will have put his name at the top of the list to come in for a start and I really liked the look of Ali Al-Hamadi in the left-sided 10 role in his brief cameo and would love him to start there so he can run in behind Moore.

It might also give Chaplin the room to drift further left and find more space out that way so that’s the front four that I'm going with.

For Millwall, Matija Sarkic is fit again and has reclaimed his place in goal from Bialkowski and has kept six clean sheets in 16 games.

It’s likely to be a back three of Tanganga, Wes Harding and captain Jake Cooper with Bryan left wing-back. Danny McNamara came in at right-wing back against Coventry and performed well and with Norton-Cuffy missing that game due to injury, is likely to start there again on Wednesday night.

Central midfield has seen plenty of rotation with De Norre, Billy Mitchell, George Honeyman and George Saville having all featured in recent games.

It was Saville and De Norre who featured last time out against Town and you’d expect the Belgian to start this one as well. Saville would provide an experienced partner but at the Den I think the more attacking Honeyman could be preferred.

At the top of the pitch, Michael Obafemi has been slowly integrated but has now started to be the first-choice striker to lead the line with Tom Bradshaw often coming off the bench to replace him.

In behind him have been Zian Flemming and Duncan Watmore. Flemming is a certain striker but Watmore’s position will have been put under threat by the performance of 18-year-old Romain Esse, who made his first start of the season against Coventry and took that opportunity by scoring the opening goal of the game.

Given that it makes him hard to drop for this one so he’s likely to partner Flemming in behind Obafemi.

Action Areas

With Bryan back in the side, Millwall will be hoping to pose a threat from set pieces. They’ll be direct and press high at times but will likely try and make themselves stubborn and hard to break down.

If Town do go with Al-Hamadi in the left-hand 10 role, it will give them another dynamic as they’ll attack almost as a 3-2-3-2 at times with Davis and Burns/Hutchinson on the wings, Chaplin in the middle and Al-Hamadi and Moore up front. It would be a bold move from McKenna but with plenty of movement it would cause plenty of problems.

Defensively, De Norre and Flemming linked up quite nicely against Coventry and with Town likely going man-to-man that battle between Morsy and De Norre is one the skipper needs to win.

Clarke and Woolfenden will also have their hands full with Flemming drifting about and the pace and power of Obafemi who’s slowly building his fitness back up.

This is the beginning of a set of games for Ipswich against teams who are further down the league having come out of a tough period where they have faced first (twice),third, fifth, seventh, ninth and 10th in the last 10 games.

Coming up in the next five are the teams in 18th, 16th, 24th, 19th and 15th. It’s a period which Town should be looking to take a maximum 15 points from, but football doesn’t necessarily work like that.

At Portman Road against the Lions Town put in a completely dominant performance which was one of their best this season. If they turn up and put on a similar display away from home against a team still in transition and bedding in new signings, it should be a comfortable win. I’m going for a 2-0 away win.

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OxtonBlue added 16:16 - Feb 14
Good effort pulling all that together, the least I can do - having read it - is to leave you a positive comment!!! COYB
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