Town Start Huge Month Against Millwall
Monday, 31st Dec 2018 18:08
Town begin what manager Paul Lambert says is a “huge” month by hosting fellow strugglers Millwall at Portman Road on New Year’s Day.
The Blues go into 2019 bottom of the Championship, seven points plus goal difference from safety with the Lions in 20th, 10 points ahead of them having won their last two matches, both at the Den.
Asked how big a month January is for Town both on an off the field - with half-a-dozen additions being targeted - Lambert said: “Huge. But I keep going back to it, so was August, so was July, so was June.
“You have to hit the ground running, you can't just put the whole thing down to when you're in December or January, how big a game it is. If you take your eye off August, you end up in this position, and that's what's happened.”
Following the Millwall match the Blues travel to League One Accrington Stanley on Saturday before taking on 22nd-placed Rotherham at Portman Road the following week in another crucial Championship clash.
Quizzed on whether he views these three matches as a chance to build up some momentum, the Blues boss said: “If we keep playing the way we're playing, we can't do any more. We're playing really well, we just need the top end to take more of a risk.
“The lads have given me everything, work-rate, commitment to it, they just need to find that finishing touch.
“This football club lost over 60-odd goals last year, which is an incredible amount of goals, an incredible amount of players that were lost as well.
“To bring in a lot of lads is not normal, that situation. But it is what it is, and we've come in to try and help.”
Lambert watched the 3-0 defeat at the Den in October from the stands having been appointed Town boss that morning.
“Millwall deserved to win that game, they were stronger, more at it,” he recalled. “But I think if you ask the lads how they feel now, it's a totally different team.
“I know it's going to be a difficult game but as I've said before, we're playing really well at this moment, we need the results.
“I can never predict the result, but what I can predict is hopefully the fans will enjoy watching us playing, we need them. But it's a different team from what appeared at the Den.”
Was the performance he witnessed at the Den a wake-up call? “It was a little bit different. But I absolutely love working with the guys, I really do. They've been absolutely brilliant to work with.
“They're my team, and I'm at the forefront of it. They've been brilliant with their work-rate and everything I've asked them to do, they've been great. They just need that little bit of help and I can see that, I'm not silly.”
Lambert insists he’ll be sticking to his footballing principles as he looks to dig Town out of the very significant hole they currently find themselves in.
“Yes, or else there's no point in me being here,” he said. “That's the bottom line. This is the way I want to play football.
“We're not physically strong enough to play long ball. We've not got the players to do it, we don't have a big side. Physical football or long ball football is not the way I want to go.
“I want to play this way, the lads have been brilliant at it for us. It's dead easy for me to say 'Go and get the ball and kick it up long', we haven't got the physical presence for it and we haven't got that strength in the middle of the pitch for it. We'll play this way because we enjoy playing this way.”
If he does keep Town up, how highly would he rate that achievement? “It's not about me, it's about the football club. It's about the supporters and the club itself.
“I've always said that, even when I've played, it was never about myself. I needed people around me to help me.
“If I'd never had great players to play beside, I wouldn't have won what I'd won. If I'd never played under great managers, the same, or really good teams, I wouldn't have achieved it.
“This achievement is about the club and the supporters and the players, to stay in the league. That's ultimately the bottom line, I would never put myself before it. It's about the football club and its supporters if this club survives.”
Moving on to his team selection, Lambert was asked whether he has a decision to make regarding his keepers with Dean Gerken having made an error for Middlesbrough’s second goal on Saturday, although subsequently going on to make a succession of excellent late saves.
“The two lads have been great,” Lambert said in reference to Gerken and Bartosz Bialkowski, who he dropped at the start of December following the Polish international’s poor run of form.
“In training, personalities, characters, absolutely fantastic. Bart had a sticky spell before I came in and then Deano's got in, then Bart came back in and Deano's got back in.
“I think the top end of the pitch, if we don't score enough goals, it puts pressure on everybody. I think everybody feels it. It's a collective unit, that's not just an individual thing.
“It can be an accumulation of us playing that well and not scoring, or we're dominating a game and not scoring the goals to take the pressure off everybody.
“I understand where the two of them are with it. I'm trying to be fair to everybody. Bart had his little sticky spell, he's doing really well in training at the minute, he'll come back to his normal best.
“Deano had some really good saves as well after the mistake. But I never chastise anybody because I know how difficult the game is. I think the two of them will know they've made mistakes they should have kept out.”
That suggest Gerken will continue against Millwall with Lambert probably sticking to the back four which started at Boro, although he has said one or two unnamed players have been suffering with knocks, skipper Luke Chambers perhaps among them having taken a heavy blow at the Riverside when challenging Lewis Wing.
However, assuming everyone is fit, Chambers would partner Matthew Pennington with Jordan Spence at right-back and Myles Kenlock at left-back.
Lambert is unlikely to risk Jonas Knudsen other than as a sub with the Danish international seemingly on his way out of the club, while new loanee Callum Elder won’t officially join until Wednesday.
In midfield, Trevoh Chalobah is again set to take the deeper role with Teddy Bishop likely to be recalled ahead of him, probably alongside Jon Nolan or Flynn Downes.
Up front, Ellis Harrison could return in the central position with Jack Lankester perhaps coming back into the team on the right for Gwion Edwards with Freddie Sears on the left.
Millwall, who are yet to win on the road this season having lost nine and drawn three, have doubts regarding frontmen Lee Gregory (calf) and Tom Elliott (groin) with both set to be assessed prior to kick-off. Striker Tom Bradshaw and midfielder Shaun Williams are long-term absentees.
Lions midfielder Ryan Tunnicliffe spent a stint on loan with the Blues in the first half of the 2013/14 season when with Manchester United, making 24 starts and five sub appearances without scoring.
He joined the Lions in the summer of 2017 following his release by Fulham, Town having shown interest earlier in pre-season but without making a contract offer.
The sides are closely-matched historically, Town having won 21 games (17 in the league), Millwall 20 (19) and with 14 (14) having ended in draws. The Blues are unbeaten in four against the Lions at Portman Road, scoring two or more in each match.
In October at the Den, with Bryan Klug in caretaker charge and Lambert watching from the stands having been appointed earlier in the day, Lee Gregory netted twice and Ryan Leonard once as Millwall comfortably beat the Blues 3-0.
Gregory profited from Town’s set-piece frailties on 26 and 51 before Leonard made the most of a mix-up between skipper Chambers and keeper Bialkowski with 20 minutes left on the clock.
Last time at Portman Road in April, Town prevented Millwall from recording a club record seventh successive away Football League win as an entertaining end-to-end clash ended 2-2.
Jake Cooper gave the visitors the lead in the 27th minute, then after the break the previously goal-shy Blues turned things around in two minutes on 52 and 54 via what looked to be a Cooper own goal, although officially credited to Martyn Waghorn.
The striker definitely grabbed Town’s second, but George Saville levelled on the hour and the Lions had a number of chances to win it late on but were thwarted by Bialkowski.
Tuesday’s referee is Stephen Martin from Staffordshire, who has shown 38 yellow cards and two red in 16 games so far this season.
Martin’s most recent Town match was the 0-0 home draw with Bolton in September in which he red-carded Trotters’ defender Marc Wilson and booked Tayo Edun and Trevoh Chalobah.
Coincidentally Martin’s last Blues game prior to that was 2-2 draw with Millwall at Portman Road in April in which he booked Spence, Stephen Gleeson, Mustapha Carayol and Martyn Waghorn and no Lions.
He was also in control of the 1-1 draw at Barnsley in March last year when Cole Skuse was shown the game’s only yellow card.
Two months earlier he had been in charge of the 1-1 draw at Preston in which he booked two home players and no Blues.
Martin also refereed the 1-0 defeat at Leeds in September 2016 in which he booked only Christophe Berra and Kevin Bru.
Before that Martin was the man in the middle of the 2-0 defeat at Brentford the previous month in which he yellow-carded Adam Webster.
Martin also officiated in the 1-0 home defeat to Rotherham in March that year, in which he booked Knudsen and one Miller.
He also took control of the 2-1 home victory over Fulham on the opening day of 2014/15 in which he cautioned Berra, Tyrone Mings and Luke Hyam.
Martin also refereed the 2-0 home victory over Brighton in September 2013, when he booked only one visiting player, and the 2-1 loss at Bristol City in the January of that year, in which he showed a single yellow card to one of the home side.
Squad from: Gerken, Bialkowski, Spence, Knudsen, Kenlock, Chambers (c), Pennington, Nsiala, Donacien, Chalobah, Downes, Dozzell, Nolan, Bishop, Edwards, Lankester, Rowe, Roberts, Sears, Jackson, Harrison.
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