Championship Gameweek 40: Can Millwall Beat The Baggies?5 min read
Lions looking brighter
For much of the season, Millwall’s problem has been an overreliance on Steve Morison – a 35-year-old who, for all his brilliant last season, now only appears to have the stamina to perform well from the bench.
Whenever Morison came on, he would be the one chasing back, offering a reference point, barking orders and almost reminding everyone what it means to be a Millwall player. Without him, though, the Lions did not have a target man to replicate his aerial qualities in open play, nor did they have a younger version of Morison with the same leadership qualities and symbolic influence.
Morison is arguably a unique footballer in the modern game, so perhaps for Millwall to begin to adjust to future life without him, they needed to alter their style slightly – and that is what they have done.
More recently, Neil Harris’ side have begun to play more counter-attacking football on the deck.
The plan is typically early balls down the right channel for Jed Wallace or Mahlon Romeo, then Lee Gregory making decoy runs to the near-post, allowing Ben Thompson to make well-timed runs into the box and put chances away unchartered.
— Millwall FC (@MillwallFC) March 13, 2019
That setup allows them to incorporate a third central midfielder in Thompson, who links play well in the middle third next to Ryans Leonard and Tunnicliffe, but it also means they still pose a goal threat when the ball comes into the box.
That strategy has worked a treat in the last two league games, in which the Lions have scored a combined four goals.
It becomes even more impressive when we consider that none of the four came from set pieces because Jake Cooper’s aerial threat from Shane Ferguson or Shaun Williams’ corners plus Leonard’s long throws had led to a large proportion of their goals up until March.
Albion fortuitous or clinical?
West Bromwich Albion’s 3-2 victory over Birmingham last week means they have won three consecutive matches under Jimmy Shan’s caretaker management.
After on paper an impressive run, which has kept their feint automatic promotion hopes just about alive, it seems churlish to question the Baggies.
— Richie Anderson (@richie_anderson) March 29, 2019
And yet, they have not played particularly well in any of those three games; their first half performance against Blues was concerning due to a lack of movement in midfield.
Neither Chris Brunt, James Morrison nor Jake Livermore – an average age of 32 – are particularly mobile and when they start together, there is nobody pushing beyond the defensive lines.
Therefore, whenever full-backs Mason Holgate and Conor Townsend, who are good on the ball, picked up possession, they had limited options and often resorted to the sort of hopeful upfield punts that do not suit forwards Jay Rodriguez and Dwight Gayle.
When Rodriguez and Gayle do get into goalscoring positions though, they are very clinical: they would not have scored a combined 36 goals from 167 shots if they were not.
Equally, Millwall will either start a goalkeeper in David Martin who has not yet produced enough evidence to prove that he is of Championship standard, or Jordan Archer, who is also at times erratic and just coming back from injury.
For that reason, we would not quite be comfortable backing Millwall to win, but a goal for Ben Thompson – who has taken three of the team’s last 13 shots and scored three in two – looks good value at 4/1.
Tip: Ben Thompson to score anytime –
Read Gabriel’s weekend League One preview.