|Ipswich Town 2 v 3 Millwall|
Tuesday, 1st January 2019 Kick-off 15:00
We March On to Ipswich. Let’s Hope We Win Our First Away Game - Notes for Millwall
Monday, 31st Dec 2018 11:43 by HarryFromBath
HarryFromBath assesses the mood in the opposition camp ahead of Tuesday’s game at Portman Road by delving into their forums.
“Well done you Lions, I’m absolutely chuffed tonight. It looks like we are the only team out of the bottom 10 to win”, “Will an 18-game unbeaten run begin as it did this time last year?”, “Back-to-back wins will help our confidence. We can go to Ipswich and win away for the first time this season.”
The Lions will arrive in Suffolk on New Year’s Day buoyed by consecutive wins at home to Reading and Forest which have lifted them three points clear of the bottom three. These victories brought an eight-game winless run to an end which had stretched back to our defeat at the Den in October.
“With all these 1-0s, are we turning into boring, boring Millwall?”, “Confidence is rising all the time now, so I hope we can get a first away win at Portman Road to put the icing on the Christmas cake”, “Maybe we will regain last season’s consistency and have a similar good second half of the season.”
“I like a good relegation scrap”, “So do I, but this isn't a good relegation scrap”, “The current severe drop this season is a surprise after finishing eighth last season. We were strong in the second half of last season and moved up the table. Everyone was hoping that this would continue into this season.”
“We need some luck to stay up this year”, “There are five poor teams which is us, Ipswich, Reading, Rotherham and Bolton. It’s right to say we are 50/50 for relegation without significant recruitment in January”, “With a few good signings in January we can hopefully start pulling away from the drop.”
“The second tier has changed massively in the last decade. Clubs in the Championship now spend far more than we do, mainly thanks to Premier League [parachute] payments and owners willing to spend far more than our budget allows. You would need a mastermind of modern football to change our fortunes.”
Neil ‘Bomber’ Harris
“If Neil Harris isn't prepared to at least try new tactics or formations to try and stop the slide then he really should leave with some dignity. He's sounding like Ian Holloway with his excuses every week. He was a legend on the field but is fast becoming a chump off it. This is our club he is taking down.”
“Has Harris run out of ideas? Almost certainly.” The 41-year-old club legend and all-time top scorer replaced Ian Holloway as caretaker-manager in March 2015 with the club all but relegated from the Championship. He steered them to promotion from League One via the play-offs in May 2017.
“Harris is reluctant to radically change formation.” Lions are worried that his tactical inflexibility and a failure to strengthen the squad last summer has led to this season’s relegation scrap. “He took us from the third tier to the cusp of the top flight with his imaginative transfers and tactical nous.”
“If he’s doing any player business in January, pray he doesn't resort to panic buying any old rubbish”, “George Saville being sold to Middlesbrough was not a problem, it was good business for a club with limited ambition. It was the really dire business when bringing new players in that was the problem.”
“There has never been a Plan B all season as 4-4-2 is all he knows. All his signings this summer have been duds, either injured or ill on the bench. When they play, their performances go downhill after every game”, “I love him but he doesn't know how to make the right decisions at the right times.”
Formation and Tactics
“Playing 4-4-2 is the only page in the Harris Book of Football Tactics”, “For the life of me I just cannot understand why he won’t consider a change of formation, there are many ways to freshen things up a bit”, “His boring tactics turned one of the bright lights of London football into a team of cloggers.”
“I don’t think we are ever going to boss games, we don’t play that sort of game”, “I never know why we make keeping simple possession look so difficult. We should be stroking the ball around making opponents work hard. Instead we keep smashing the ball forward or hitting it recklessly out of play.”
“Everyone puts in a shift and a half and give it everything for the cause, the whole team are pressing in numbers”, “Going forward we have been playing it on the ground and actually taking players on, and all our chances are coming from playing set pieces and on the floor, not from hoofing the ball.”
Millwall play with industry and commitment but a lack of quality and confidence have been regularly highlighted. “None of our players are too old, too young or terrible. However, compared to other Championship players they are below average otherwise they would not end up playing at Millwall.”
“A combination of a leaky defence and not putting our chances away is a recipe for disaster”, “Our team looks very nervous although this is really no surprise”, “Away from home teams don't need to get out of second gear to beat us. We lack confidence and put ourselves under needless pressure.”
Harris has played the same starting line-up (above) in the last three games. This consistency was a hallmark of the Lions’ success last season, but many fans think that it has been counterproductive in this campaign as teams have worked out how to nullify their threats and exploit their weaknesses.
“Forget about formations, the defence has not been as good as last season”, “We have already conceded 39 goals this season, last season we only conceded 45. Reading and Forest were our third and fourth clean sheets of the season. Last season in contrast we had 19 clean sheets.”
“We could have turned a corner with our defending”, “The back four look to have sorted themselves out and things suddenly look far more organised. We have looked so solid at the back in the last two games, picking up opposition players well and restricting them to a handful of long-distance shots.”
Keeper Jordan Archer has been criticised for making errors but was untroubled when keeping clean sheets in the last two games. Left-back James Meredith and centre-half Shaun Hutchinson have also struggled for consistency in the team’s poor recent run but were much improved in these games.
Centre-back Jake Cooper is seen both as a linchpin in the defence and a threat with both goals and assists from attacking set pieces, while right-back Mahlon Romeo is seen as a better attacking outlet than Conor McLaughlin who has not featured lately through injury.
“Who should play in midfield come January?”, “We let George Saville go and we haven’t effectively replaced him. He was good at stopping opponents from playing and scored lots of goals too. Shaun Williams is ineffective and injured. Ryan Leonard and Ryan Tunnicliffe are often just outnumbered.”
“We have no one in the middle driving forward, running with the ball and getting defences running backwards”, “We beat Forest because the midfield fought tooth and nail. Leonard and Tunnicliffe have come in for some criticism recently so deserve a bit of praise after excellent performances.”
“Harris is not going to change from 4-4-2, but if he were to play a five anywhere it would have to be in midfield.” The Lions did switch to a midfield five (above) in stoppage time to see out the Forest tie, with midfielder Jem Karacan replacing winger Jed Wallace and Aiden O’Brien moving out wide.
Wallace has blown hot and cold on the right flank whereas Shane Ferguson is more of a threat with his crosses and set pieces on the left. Aiden O’Brien is a finisher who has improved his wider link-up play when operating as a striker. Occasional substitute Jiri Skalak adds pace and width on the left.
“Our four wide midfielders of O’Brien, Wallace, Ferguson and Skalak are not renowned for tracking back and tackling. This puts the central pair under pressure and exposes the back four”, “They don’t cross the ball first time as soon as they get the chance, often looking instead for another short pass.”
Top-scorer Lee Gregory is their most consistent striker leading the line effectively, but he is a doubt for Tuesday with a calf injury. His regular partner Tom Elliott has struggled for form and many Lions want O’Brien to start. Veteran Steve Morison helps see out games but he is less of a scoring threat.
“Our biggest flaw up front is Elliot. He’s just not Championship quality but Harris continues to select him. We need a target man who is decent before it is too late and we are pretty close to that”, “We badly need to start putting away more of the chances we create. Our finishing is just far too poor.”
Millwall 1 – 0 Nottingham Forest
“Well done boys and a clean sheet as well, I will take that all day long”, “I thought we were brilliant today. I had a feeling before kick-off that we would come out fighting and that's exactly what we did. It was a good result today although Forest were always going to lose at the Den. They were mugs.”
“Get in Teacake! The overhead kick was a bit fancy but it’s 1-0 nonetheless.” Ryan Tunnicliffe's ninth-minute goal proved decisive in a win which was well managed. “We all knew that Forest would come at us in the second half. They were told to play the ball through the middle but we defended well.”
“That was a victory in the manner of last season. We showed initial aggression and energy, nicked a goal then defended for our life. It was ugly at times but we had chances on the break”, “Even when we dropped deep, we nullified them. They never tested the keeper other than with routine saves.”
“Forest were not up for it both physically or mentally today”, “They had lots of ability but no drive and no heart and they also lacked effort. Their striker Lewis Grabban summed their attitude up and their manager will be likely sacked because a load of overpaid prima donnas cannot be bothered.”
Millwall 1 – 0 Reading
“We won, it doesn't matter how”, “A nervy and poor performance but a welcome three points”, “A win’s a win but **** me we are dreadful. Harris can't be happy with that performance-wise. It was a massive let-off”, “It was a masterclass by Harris in how not to stretch a team reduced to 10 men.”
Millwall went ahead after eight minutes through a fine Jed Wallace freekick and a minute later the visitors had Tyler Blackett sent off for a dangerous tackle on the goalscorer. The game was a cagey affair and Reading's misery was compounded when Leandro Bacuna was dismissed on 88 minutes.
“We ground out a result and came away with all three points”, “We played poorly, lacked confidence and were nervy but we won. We got a clean sheet, won three points and moved two places clear of the drop but were we convincing? Sadly, far from it and we will have to up our game considerably.”
“It’s the least excited I have been after a win. It was a struggle where the result was more important than anything. We didn’t create anything before or after the goal”, “After eight games without a win it was always going to be a struggle getting our next win. At least we are out of the bottom three.”
“We still did our level best to throw it away in the second half.” The starting XI was the same as for the subsequent Forest game, but it’s also worth noting their line-up at the final whistle (above) as Steve Morison and Aiden O’Brien in particular are regularly introduced in the game’s final half hour.
Stoke 1 – 0 Millwall
“Another game when we had much less than 50 per cent possession, limited chances and were on the back foot for 70 minutes. We're going nowhere at present. Except down”, “It was again so frustrating that the warning lights were flashing in neon and nothing was changed on the pitch to switch them off.”
“We don't look like scoring, and Stoke are dodgy at the back.” Stoke enjoyed a routine home victory when Saido Berahino headed the winner in on 61 minutes. Lions felt it was an opportunity missed. “Another Championship team were there for the taking but Harris was very unreactive in his tactics.”
“Just before Stoke got their winner they had had a period of about 10 minutes where they upped their pace. They had obviously been instructed to get between our two banks of four and twice the runner wasn’t been picked up causing big problems. They failed to do this in the entire first period.”
“I sat there afterwards thinking, ‘How the **** did we just lose that match?’”, “How can a team be so unlucky so often in half a season? Somebody has to do something to change our luck”, “The big difference was that Stoke buried a header while Cooper fluffed his lines with an easier chance.”
Goalkeepers and Defenders
“Jordan Archer is occasionally utterly brilliant but it doesn't make up for his horrible cock-ups.” The 28-year-old former Spurs youth product “is too slow reading the game and his hesitation gets the players in front of him jumpy”, “He causes mayhem when coming for a ball only to then leave it.”
“Archer had little to do the last two games but he did it well”, “He’s a very good shot-stopper and his distribution and kicking are a significant plus”, “If it wasn’t for his flapping, we would have made last season’s play-offs”, “He makes a good stop every so often, but routine ones slip through his hands”
“Mahlon Romeo had another storming game against Reading with some good clearing headers and tackles. It was a real faultless performance.” The 23-year-old former Arsenal youth player “has pace and a threat and he links well with Wallace”, “He pushes forward and is a good back-up on the right.”
“Romeo is strong in the tackle and reads the game magnificently. He has been consistent this season popping up vitally covering at centre-half. He’s superb going forward and always available to cause problems”, “He take the safe option of laying the ball back to Wallace with a cross going begging.”
“James Meredith is less of an attacking threat than Romeo.” The 30-year-old ex-Bradford left-back “is defensively solid but has been inconsistent this season, being careless on the ball and caught out of position”, “He has looked off the pace, but he stuck to his task with few dramas against Forest.”
“Meredith was quality last season, so surely you do not become a bad player overnight?”, “He has pace and energy down the left. On his game he’s his aggressive self and gives very little away”, “He has been hopeless this season, but he looks more composed with Ferguson playing in front of him.”
“I would like to Byron Webster get more games. Cooper’s a good defender but Webster shades it for me.” The 31-year-old ex-Yeovil centre-back “is physically stronger and probably has better positional sense than Cooper. As an out-and-out defender he is superb but he is less of a threat on set pieces.”
Martyn Waghorn v Shaun Hutchinson
“Shaun Hutchinson is getting back to his best form after his knee injury.” The 28-year-old ex-Fulham centre-half “was always in the right place, never caught out and a real captain’s performance against Forest”, “He was brilliant today and his improvement made a massive difference for us at the back.”
“Our defence has been poor so far compared to last season and maybe that's due to Hutchinson’s injury”, “After his injury he had a period when he didn’t play well and looked really nervous”, “His reading of the game is so good, but he has had moments when the ball easily got away from him.”
“Cooper was a far better player last season knowing he had Hutchinson behind him to clear up the guaranteed one clanger a game he will make. Hutchinson not being there dented his confidence this season and it shows”, “He has not been as good defensively but carried on his good attacking work.”
Jake Cooper scoring for Millwall
“Another assist from Cooper against Forest, he looked his normal assured self.” The 23-year-old ex-Reading centre-back “is such a handful at set pieces”, “He never thinks to bring the ball down when clearing it. It goes straight back to the opposition or out of play no matter how much time he has.”
“I would like to see Jem Karacan given a go.” The 29-year-old ex-Bolton man was signed on a short-term deal until January. “He defends energetically and puts in good tackles but he’s not a threat”, “From the little I have seen of him, he looks to be busy and useful and he gets really involved in the game.”
“I would never wish injury on a player, even one as ineffective as Shaun Williams has been recently.” The 32-year-old former Milton Keynes man has been absent since October with a knee injury. “He was pathetically lightweight jogging around in midfield. Teams could scythe through us with ease.”
“Ryan Leonard had his best game for us against Forest.” The 26-year-old was signed from Sheffield United on loan in August with the deal being made permanent in January. “He covers every blade of grass and busies himself but is anonymous”, “He shows none of the craft or guile Saville possessed.”
“Leonard has got to do better. His first touch is terrible, he isn’t particularly fast and is slow to spot an opening and play the ball into space. He makes a lot of effort chasing lost causes which endears him to the crowd. I can’t fault his effort but I was expecting much more from our record signing.”
Ryan ‘Teacake’ Tunnicliffe
“Teacake!!!! A fantastic overhead kick!!! You couldn’t make this up!”, “We were struggling and then our most defensive-minded midfielder scores an overhead kick.” The 25-year-old ex-Fulham man and one-time Town loanee “has enormous energy, he’s speedy and he covers much of the pitch”.
“It would seem that being given a run of games is really helping Teacake to show his value”, “He’s so like Jimi Abdou. He has his energy and speed and never gives up, but lacks composure approaching the opposition box”, “He’s a spoiler who will run around fairly anonymously for most of the time.”
Wide Midfielders and Wingers
“The signing of Jiri Skalak is becoming more mysterious by the week.” The 26-year-old left winger arrived from Brighton in August. “Why Harris bought Skalak and then never plays him is beyond me. He hasn’t looked like the answer to our problems but he hasn’t had a decent run of games with us.”
“Jiri Skalak is a winger who can play a simple one-two, get to the byline and clip the ball back. Get him on the pitch to run at full-backs”, “He looks a much better player when we try playing the ball to feet and not launching up to him every time”, “He’s a busy winger who also looks like he can tackle.”
“Shane Ferguson is always doing his very best to press forward.” The 27-year-old ex-Newcastle left winger or left-back “is very solid, defends well and hits some good crosses and corners”, “He often does more defending than Meredith behind him and he’s easily the best crosser at the club.”
Shane Ferguson (Birmingham)
“Ferguson works hard, he gets in some good corners and free kicks and tries very hard to influence the play”, “He has the desire and attitude, though sometimes he’s just a bit lightweight”, “He’s not an out-and-out pacy winger but he shows some urgency and energy and covers well defensively.”
“Jed Wallace looked lively on the right against Forest and almost set up a goal in the second half.” The 24-year-old ex-Wolves winger “is too erratic. He has speed to burn a but lack of composure and ability to look up is his downfall. He loses the ball through rushing things or taking wrong options.”
Nottingham Forest's Armand Traore v Jed Wallace
“Jed took his goal well against Reading but was anonymous for much of the rest of the game”, “We were a completely different team when Harris switched Jed to play through the middle at Preston. They couldn't contain us and we should have doubled the two second half goals we actually scored.”
“Steve Morison has been a Millwall great, but he has been playing with an invisible deep-sea diving suit on for the last 18 months which means that he’s unable to run or jump.” The 35-year-old former Leeds and Norwich man “has had little impact although he does help us defend better at the front”.
Myles Kenlock v Steve Morison
“I'm not a Morison fan but he has been good with the ball”, “He can't score for toffee, hardly wins any headers nowadays and his legs have gone”, “He changes the game when he comes on and that's his role now, he’s not a 90-minute player anymore at this level. He’s still better than Elliott though.”
“Aiden O’Brien has looked surprisingly good up front. He won a couple of good 50/50s and looked a bit of a handful making lung-busting runs.” The 25-year-old youth product “should never play on the right wing again. I was impressed by his hold-up play with his back to goal bringing onrushing players in.”
“When the ball was played forward for O’Brien to contest, he makes little impact. When it is played to his feet and he has the chance to turn with space to work in and run he looks terrific. For him to show his full potential Harris now has to get the rest of team to provide him with the right service.”
“Tom Elliott is simply not Championship quality.” The 28-year-old ex-Wimbledon man “is one of the worst forwards we have signed. He’s lazy and has no football brain or skill”, “For a man of his size he is a total wimp. The sooner we bring in a proper target man the better as he’s League One at best.”
“I would play anyone in the squad as striker before Elliott. His positional play is poor, he can’t direct a header, is slow and doesn’t chase anything, he can’t pass, hold up a ball or dribble”, “For such a big bloke he should put himself about, win the ball when attacking and chase it down when defending.”
“The only player in the team playing at the same level as last season is Gregory.” The 30-year-old ex-FC Halifax Town striker “is probably the first name everyone puts on the team sheet when selecting their preferred line-up”, “He’s an energetic player who wins balls he has just no right to get near to.”
“Gregory worked his backside off all game, using his strength to win and hold the ball”, “He works so hard but has too much put on him. He's running around with no support”, “Why he's not getting any service is beyond me. He struggles with having to feed off scraps the relentless hoofball gives him.”
Lions’ Views on ITFC and the Game
“Someone, hopefully it's Ipswich, will be on the end of a ‘Wall thrashing”, “Let’s hope we can get all three points at Ipswich as we need to start winning away to help with confidence”, “I hope we can keep the momentum going on Tuesday”, “We never win at Ipswich so maybe this will be our time.”
“We only need a draw at Ipswich.” Most Lions see Tuesday’s game as more of a ‘must not lose’ as a ‘must win’. With no wins on the road this season many are viewing this as a chance to break their duck. “Ipswich is a good place to win away, but they will also be looking at this as a winnable game.”
“Ipswich have just had two away games including Middlesbrough. That amount of travelling can be draining, especially when you lose. We had two home games and Ipswich is quite a short journey”, “They have the worst defensive record in the division and only Bolton have scored fewer goals.”
“Looking at Ipswich, the neutral will say they held it together just about under McCarthy despite the financial limitations. He managed to recruit just enough talent to avoid serious relegation battles, eg McGoldrick etc, but as soon as their prize assets were sold there was an inevitable decline.”
“This led to this year’s performances. It’s all very obvious and it has been similar with us”, “Ipswich, Rotherham and one of Reading, Bolton, or Wigan will drop”, “Five woeful teams at the bottom, it’s about making sure we stay above three of them”, “January will decide whether we go down or not.”
The busiest Lions’ message-board with open access is the knowledgeable Millwall Online. As ever, this link comes with a cautionary note for the industrial language which can be encountered. Millwall highlights are available on the Multimedia menu as well as Ipswich Town and for the whole of the Championship and other EFL leagues.
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